House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was munitions.


Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:20 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario


Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind my colleague that we had Brigadier-General Charles Lamarre, Director General of Operations, Strategic Joint Staff, Department of National Defence at committee to speak to us about the necessity of having the interoperability portion in this legislation. I would like to quote what he said in his testimony:

In this context, it is vital that our men and women in uniform and the civilians working with them are not unjustly accused of criminal conduct when doing what we ask of them in the interests of our national security and defence. Bill C-6 thus affords them the legal protection they need to do their job, as permitted by the convention.

Why does my colleague want to remove that legal coverage for our men and women when they are doing the job that we ask them to do?

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:25 p.m.


Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

She seems to have misunderstood the NDP position. The clear amendment that we proposed in committee was not about striking clause 11 from Bill C-6; it was about replacing it with article 21 of the convention. That is clear.

We do not want to remove our soldiers' legal coverage. We just want to replace it with the same clause that Canada wanted to add to the convention. My colleague is misleading the whole House when she says that the NDP wants to remove legal coverage. The truth is that we want to strengthen it.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:25 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must say that this is one of the more interesting debates that we have had in this House in a while. I do not doubt the sincerity of the government side in what they are saying, in spite of the heckling that goes on from time to time.

However, the fact remains, that as the official opposition, people bring concerns to us they may not want to share with any particular government. The concerns that we have raised from the various stakeholders and people of interest out there bring us to a place where we are in conflict with the view of the government side.

We believe that Bill C-6, in its current form, would contradict or, worse, undermine the international treaty it is supposed to implement.

During the committee review of the bill, NDP committee members attempted to amend the bill, but the Conservative members only allowed one very small change. I have to say that those amendments we put forward were in response to some experts and other folks who had brought their concerns to us.

Sadly, Bill C-6 is seen, internationally, as the weakest and worst legislation on this matter in the world. That is not the NDP saying that. That is other people who have come to us with that. In fact, it is broadly believed it would undermine the very spirit of the treaty it is supposed to implement.

I am not saying that is something deliberate on the part of the government. We are saying that, for whatever reason, it has reached the point with this bill where it needs more work. We are prepared to do that, in spite of the fact that the NDP has worked successfully alongside Canadian and international civil society groups to try to persuade the government to totally prohibit the use of munitions by Canadian soldiers in any manner. I understand that there was testimony from military folks asking for this to happen, but we are saying, as legislators, we have a responsibility to respond, perhaps in a different way.

Sadly, we believe that there are many dangerous and unnecessary loopholes in the bill, and I will get to those a little further on.

We hope that the government will understand from this debate tonight that it is important to further amend Bill C-6 to ensure Canada's humanitarian reputation is not tarnished by this piece of weak legislation.

We have heard people in here talk about the damage done because cluster munitions can release hundreds of explosives over a very large area, in a short period of time. Again, speaker after speaker has spoken about the impact of the devastation on civilians, in particular, that lasts many years after the conflict. We are all aware of that, and so is the government side.

Think for a moment back. For many decades following the Second World War, countries were clearing bombs, primitive by today's standards, of course, and from time to time some would explode. Many people, particularly, in the early 1950s, were injured and some killed by them.

To its credit, Canada, in another time, participated actively in what was known as the Oslo process to produce a convention to ban these cluster munitions. That process came on the heels of the success of the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines.

Sadly, as we have heard in this debate today, the U.S., China, and Russia chose not to participate in that process and, again, they continue to stockpile these munitions to this day.

Very concerning to the NDP is the fact that, over the very serious concern expressed by a majority of participating states and non-governmental organizations, the Canadian government succeeded in negotiating into the final text of the convention article 21, which explicitly allows for the continued military interoperability with non-party states, people who are not signatories to the agreement.

The NDP has very serious concerns because Bill C-6 would even go beyond the interoperability allowance of article 21.

I would offer that the main problem with the bill lies, in fact, with clause 11, which would establish an extremely broad list of exceptions.

Sadly, in its original form, this clause permitted Canadian soldiers to use, acquire, possess, and/or transport cluster munitions whenever they were acting in conjunction with another country that is not a member of the convention, and to request the use of cluster munitions by another country.

To my mind, that is using other countries as a blind to hide behind, to allow our forces to use these munitions, when Canadians clearly do not want them under any circumstances.

At the foreign affairs committee, in response, the NDP worked closely with the government, not only in public session but also through direct dialogue, to work to try to improve Bill C-6 before it became law.

I am pleased to say we were successful at committee in persuading the government to formally prohibit the use of cluster munitions by Canadian soldiers. The member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills made that point during the debate here tonight. I was pleased to see that. He is an individual with great experience in our military, and it is worthy to take his advice.

Having said this, other serious loopholes remain, and as a result, the NDP believes that without further amendments to fix these loopholes, Canada's commitment to ending the use of cluster munitions will appear at best to be superficial.

I would suggest that, even worse, Bill C-6 may well damage this convention, as it may lead to other international precedents or one that other nations would use to justify themselves opting out or seeking further exemptions.

Let us imagine, as a result of Bill C-6's exemptions, that Canada's legislation could be viewed as the weakest and the worst of all countries that have ratified the convention to date.

Overall, I would suggest the government's approach to the cluster munitions convention further demonstrates an overall pattern of weakness on arms control. I am sure that will be debated, but that is the view from this side.

We often hear the government side in the House touting NATO, but now the Conservatives have refused to join all of our NATO allies in signing the UN arms trade treaty, except the United States, and worse, loosening restrictions on arms exports. That puts us in a very questionable position on the world stage.

I want to be clear. New Democrats fully support the creation of a treaty to ban cluster munitions. However, this bill would undermine the convention, rather than just implementing it.

We oppose the bill as presented at committee stage. Again I repeat, we worked hard, and that is everybody's job in this place, as I see it, to try to make legislation better. We have civil society groups, and I know there are some, not all, on the government who frown on civil society groups, but I know from experience that those are groups of people who work hard to keep all of us accountable in this place.

Although the one amendment the Conservatives allowed is an improvement, it certainly is insufficient for the NDP to come to a point where we could support this bill.

At this point, the NDP believes the best option would be to remove the problematic clause 11, so the NDP is proposing to delete this section from the bill before it passes report stage.

There are some statistics and facts around this: 113 countries signed the convention and 84 have ratified it. We signed it on December 3, 2008. It was tabled in the House of Commons on December 15, 2012. That was a significant gap in time.

A very striking statistic I think we all should consider is that 98% of the victims of the use of cluster munitions are civilians. Let us think about that for a moment. I understand that the people here are not cold-hearted. I understand there is some belief in the necessity of having weapons of this nature or at least in working side by side with countries that have them.

However, I would ask the members on the government side to consider for a moment that 98% of the victims are civilians. How many are women and children and non-combatants?

With that, I will end my comments.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:35 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question I would like to ask my NDP colleague is quite simple.

He clearly laid out why the New Democratic Party of Canada cannot support this type of bill. I am certain that he is very aware of the impact of cluster munitions on the lives of civilians who live in war-torn countries, especially failed cluster munitions, that is, munitions that do not explode and thus become landmines.

I would like to hear what he has to say about the fact that Canada, as represented by the Conservative government, feels no remorse in conducting missions with countries that continue the long tradition of sending these types of munitions to countries at war. The government is washing its hands of the consequences this can have on the civilian population.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:35 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we listen to the debate and we allow ourselves to be guided by it, the comments of the member will probably hold true. However, I believe that on the other side of the House, people are equally as concerned as we are about the damage that is done by these munitions.

I am just saddened by the fact that we are at this stage of a bill that is so flawed that it would open the doors to significant criticism of our country and, worse, might allow for the spread of these munitions.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:35 p.m.


Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. I would like to ask him a question.

The Conservatives withdrew from the Kyoto protocol and from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. What is more, the government is refusing to sign the arms trade treaty, and now it wants to pass a bill that will render the Convention on Cluster Munitions meaningless.

Does my colleague not see that the Conservatives are putting Canada between a rock and a hard place when it comes to international affairs? Unfortunately, Canada is losing its reputation as a leader in human rights. I know how much my colleague cares about this type of issue and I would like him to talk about the Conservatives' approach.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:35 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is troubling, but it is very clear to those of us who spend time in the House that there is a philosophical difference on the two sides of the House when we look at the issues to which the member has referred. In a democracy, that is absolutely fair and proper.

I am more focused on the fact that I believe this bill at this particular time is flawed. Let us withdraw it and let us look at making it more effective and more appropriate for the international community so our reputation will be enhanced by it.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

June 18th, 2014 / 11:35 p.m.


Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member went into quite a bit of detail. In terms of the timeline, is the government really serious? The fact is that this treaty was ratified six years ago, in 2008, and the government is just bringing it forward now.

The government brought it forward on a couple of occasions and never really took it seriously, so how serious is it? Maybe, because it is flawed bill, the government is not really serious about it. Maybe the member could comment on that.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:40 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes, it has taken a time for this to reach the floor, but we had a number of prorogations. We had a number of things. It was tabled in the House in different forms and there was interference. However, coming back to the substance of the bill, there is clearly more work to be done. I am not about to assess the timing or anything like that, because what we have in front of us is what we have to deal with today. It is disappointing, though, that it took this long.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:40 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this House and speak on Bill C-6, an act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

We debate a wide range of subjects in this House. They are all important, but some subjects are more serious than others and some have more implications than others. Some deal with policy that affects our lives, but once in a while an issue comes up that involves matters of life and death and invokes some of the most important considerations that a government and a deliberative body like this one can have. This is one such act.

This bill deals with the use of cluster munitions by states around the world. It is the position of the official opposition, the New Democrats, to oppose Bill C-6 in its current form on the grounds that it contradicts and undermines the very international treaty that it is supposed to implement. I would point out to Canadians watching that the New Democrats did what a good official opposition does; that is, we attempted to work with the government and, in a good faith attempt, to amend the bill at committee. However, the Conservatives only allowed one small change. As we will see later on, it is not a change that is sufficient to render an inherently flawed bill acceptable to us.

This Conservative legislation purports to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I will say that it is widely recognized as the weakest attempt to do so in the world. It undermines the very spirit of the treaty it is supposed to implement.

The NDP will continue to push the government to further amend Bill C-6 to try to ensure that Canada's humanitarian reputation is not tarnished further by this weak legislation.

I will give a bit of background to detail exactly what we are talking about.

Cluster munitions are a weapon, an armament, that can release hundreds of explosives over a large area in a very short period of time. They have a devastating effect on the people in the area, mainly civilians. I will say right now that 98% of the casualties of cluster bombs around the world are innocent civilians.

These munitions often do not explode on impact and therefore can last many years after a conflict has ended. We have heard some testimony by members on all sides of the House that this is still a problem for countries such as Laos, where these weapons were dropped during the Vietnam war; some thousands of these munitions, unexploded ordnance, that are still in that country risk going off and harming and killing innocent men, women, and children today.

Canada participated actively in what was known as the Oslo process to produce a convention to ban the use of cluster munitions. The Oslo process came on the heels of the success of the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines. These are important international initiatives that attempt to get worldwide consensus on an agreement to refuse to use certain weapons that are of particularly egregious effect. The U.S., China, and Russia did not participate in the process, and they continue to have stockpiles of cluster munitions to this day.

Despite strong opposition from the majority of states participating in the Oslo process and from many non-governmental organizations that have an interest in peace and in moving forward to a more civilized world, Canada succeeded in negotiating an article into the final text of the convention that explicitly allows for continued military interoperability with non-party states. That is article 21 of the treaty. In other words, Canada worked to allow and facilitate the continued use of cluster munitions by states that refused to participate in the process or sign the treaty, but limited that to the concept of interoperability, which essentially meant that a nation's military that was working in conjunction with an ally would not necessarily face criminal sanction under the treaty if its ally happened to use cluster munitions.

It was surprising and unacceptable to many countries in the world to see Canada urge the exception that would continue to allow the use of these devastatingly horrific weapons. The Minister of Foreign Affairs used the word “horrific” to describe these weapons, and properly so.

These weapons are often the size of batteries or small tennis balls, and they come, as the name would suggest, in clusters. When a cluster of these munitions explodes, many of these things are spread. Where they end up cannot be controlled. Often they exist for years unexploded until someone accidentally trips them, and then an innocent person is hurt.

After Canada, some years ago, negotiated that treaty, even with the narrow exception, the government then, as it was committed to do under that treaty, drafted the legislation that is before us in this chamber that is supposed to implement its obligations under the Oslo Treaty.

Bill C-6 now comes before us. When it came before us in its original draft form, inexplicably and completely unacceptably, the bill contained a number of widened exceptions that would continue to allow and facilitate the use of cluster munitions, directly contrary to the spirit and intent of the treaty Canada signed.

In its original form that the government drafted, it put in a clause, clause 11 of the bill, that would permit Canadian soldiers to use cluster munitions, to acquire cluster munitions, to possess cluster munitions, and to transport cluster munitions whenever they were acting in conjunction with another country that was not a member of the convention. It would also allow Canadian military personnel to request the use of cluster munitions by another country. That is shocking.

After sitting in an international arena to negotiate the end of the use of these munitions, and even though Canada, incorrectly, I think, advocated at that treaty table that there be a limited exception, the interoperability concept, the legislation the Conservatives drafted and brought before the House widened those exceptions, which effectively gutted the intent of the bill.

At the foreign affairs committee, New Democrats, led by our foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre, supported by Canadian and international civil society groups, pushed for changes to the bill. We engaged closely with the government in public and through direct dialogue to encourage improvements to this legislation, and we were successful to a limited extent. We were successful in persuading the government to formally prohibit the use of cluster munitions by Canadian soldiers.

The bill comes before us with that one improvement, but it would still permit Canadian soldiers and military to request the use of cluster munitions by another country, to acquire cluster munitions, to possess cluster munitions, and to transport cluster munitions when they are acting in concert with another country.

Unfortunately, these loopholes are rightly attracting the criticism not only of Canadians but of the world. Without amendments to rectify these loopholes, Canada's commitment to ending the use of cluster munitions will be superficial at best. Indeed, many suggest that Bill C-6 would even damage the convention as a whole by establishing an international precedent for opt-outs and exemptions.

As it currently stands, Canada's legislation has been called the weakest of all countries in the world to have ratified this convention, and that is no small feat, because 113 countries have signed the convention and 84 have ratified it, and of those countries, Canada has the weakest legislation.

I am going to ask the indulgence of my colleagues for a minute. In six years, almost, in the House, I have yet to mention a very special person in my life, and that is my mother, Renee Marlene Davies. She is a very lovely and talented woman. She is hard working. She is loyal. She is a fantastic mother. I mention her because this debate made me think of her for two reasons. First, she was born on December 7, 1941. That is the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. It was a surprise attack. It was unprovoked. It shocked the United States. In fact, it shocked the world. That war was ended in the Japanese theatre some four years later by the dropping of two horrific weapons of mass destruction, atomic bombs.

The issues of the eradication and control of nuclear weapons continue to this day, and the government has continued that process. I understand that the government has completely boycotted and sanctioned Iran. It has closed our embassy even because of its view that Iran's development of nuclear processes threaten international security. I think that, not quite to the same degree but similar in kind, so do cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs threaten international peace and security in a different way, perhaps not in such a dramatic profound way, but when we have thousands of people around the world killed by cluster bombs, people who have nothing to do with the conflict, that is mass killing of innocent people and is something that should shock the conscience of all right-thinking people.

The second reason article 11 made me think of my mother is because she would never countenance me using dangerous or illegal products, or allow me to hold a product for a friend of mine, transport it for a friend of mine, or to request a friend of mine to use it, which is what this is. None of us would permit, as a logical exercise, a state of affairs where we would say that something is so dangerous and horrific that we will not use it, but we will certainly hold it, transport it or ask someone else to use it if they really want to. That is aiding and abetting.

I know the Prime Minister and the government have often stated that they want Canada's foreign policy to be one of principle. They want our foreign policy to be one that is not subject to the vagaries of relative arguments or of relative shifting of values or morals. They want to take the right position, and it does not matter what other countries think.

Why is that perspective absent here? Why does the government not say that it will not compromise its strict and absolute commitment to the eradication of a weapon that has no place in a civilized world? These weapons have no place in modern warfare at all, and the government should say that it will not consider views otherwise from anybody, friend or foe alike.

Why have the Conservatives gotten relative here? Is it because they will not use it, but their friends use it, they cannot really stop them, so they will just have to get along with that? This is contrary to the principled assertion the government claims to follow.

The government's approach to the Cluster Munitions Convention fits into a broader pattern of weakness on arms control, and I do not think that affects just our government, but it affects many countries in the world. The government has refused to join all of our NATO allies in signing the UN Arms Trade Treaty and it has loosened restrictions on arms exports.

The New Democrats, for our part, fully supported the creation of a treaty to ban cluster munitions. We fully believe that Canada should take a leadership role on the world stage and say that under no circumstances should these weapons be used and we will not be part of it in any fashion whatsoever. We will not have our military work with another military that uses them, end of story. That is a principled approach to the use of what has been described as horrific weapons of war, which do not kill soldiers, they kill civilians.

The bill would undermine the convention rather than implement it. Therefore, we are opposed to the bill as presented. We will continue to urge the government to make the kind of changes that I would like to think the Conservatives want to make.

I have heard members opposite talk about their commitment to ending the use of these weapons. They have described, in very accurate detail, the devastating impact of these weapons. They know that these weapons have no place in the modern world and should not be used by any country of good conscience. However, we know that Israel, the United States, China and Russia use them.

There are validators of our position, such as Earl Turcotte, the former senior coordinator for Mine Action at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He was the head of the Canadian delegation to negotiate this convention. He also negotiated the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, also known as the Ottawa convention. Mr. Turcotte resigned as a result of Canada attempting to implement this weak legislation.

Mr. Turcotte is active in advocating for stronger legislation. This is coming from someone who I think has the most credibility of anybody, perhaps, in the country on this subject. He said:

...the proposed...legislation is the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the convention [on cluster munitions] to date.

It fails to fulfill Canada's obligations under international humanitarian law; it fails to protect vulnerable civilians in war-ravaged countries around the world; it betrays the trust of sister states who negotiated this treaty in good faith, and it fails Canadians who expect far better from our nation.

Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada, said this:

Canada should have the best domestic legislation in the world [not the worst]. We need to make it clear that no Canadian will ever be involved with this weapon again but from our reading this legislation falls well short of those standards.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser said this:

It is a pity the current Canadian government, in relation to cluster munitions, does not provide any real lead to the world. Its approach is timid, inadequate and regressive.

I will pause there for a moment. Canadians have always been proud of Canada's historic position on the world stage, where we have been respected by countries around the world as a country of balance, a country of moderation, a country of peacemaking, a country of peacekeeping, a country that is respected around the world as an honest broker. Yet we have people no less than former prime ministers of other Commonwealth countries like Australia saying that our approach now is timid, inadequate, and regressive.

I would venture to say that the Canadians I talk to, and I would dare say the majority of Canadians, want to see Canadian reassert our historic role on the world stage where we are respected for our fairness, where we are admired for our ability to bring peace, good sense, and responsibility to situations of conflict. We are a middle power, and that is a position on the world stage that we have historically occupied.

Instead, under the government, we are turning into a country that is associated with aggression, violence, and lack of international commitment—for example, the government withdrawing from Kyoto, the only international treaty on climate change. Our lack of standing in this world is demonstrated by a number of objective facts. For the first time in history, Canada did not get our turn at the UN Security Council and in fact had to withdraw our application because we knew Canada would suffer an embarrassing defeat by the United Nations, the other nations of the world.

As I have already said, 98% of all cluster munitions casualties have been civilians. One cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets and typically scatters them over an area the size two to four football fields. Up to 37 countries and territories have been affected by cluster munitions use in armed conflict, 19 countries have used cluster munitions in combat, and 34 countries have at one point produced the weapons. Half of those have since ended production, some as a result of the convention.

While Canada has never used or produced cluster munitions, and I think that is a testament to our international position that I just described, the global stockpile of cluster bombs totals approximately four billion, with a quarter of those in U.S. hands.

I would end by saying that I would urge the government to work with its closest allies, United States and Israel, and use our influence to urge them to sign this treaty and urge them not to use these weapons, so that Canadians can once again reassert our respected, peaceful, and responsible position on the world stage, as Canadians want.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions ActGovernment Orders

11:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The hon. member will have one minute to complete his speech, as well as 10 minutes of questions and comments.

It being midnight, pursuant to an order made on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, this House stands adjourned until later this day at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 12 a.m.)