Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to speak to this bill put forward by the Liberal government. During my tenure as parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, I spoke many times to this bill on behalf of the government, and today I will speak about why there is opposition to this bill.
It is very clear that this is one of the election promises the Liberal Party made during the campaign without thinking about it. From their broken promises, like electoral reform, we know the Liberals opposed anything the Conservative government was doing, even if it was doing everything legitimately. They only had one focus. They would not do what the Conservative government wanted to do, which is why, on many occasions, they had to break the promises they made during the election campaign.
Getting back to this bill, during the time I was in government, there were many questions as to why we were not going to sign the Arms Trade Treaty. I have the talking points of the department, the same department that I represented in Parliament at they time. It said this bill was to enhance transparency and accountability in Canada with export controls, and allow accession to the Arms Trade Treaty, which is the major issue.
We are talking about joining the Arms Trade Treaty. The Arms Trade Treaty already has provisions in it. On the major issue of whether that is the right approach to take, of course it is. There is no question that the Arms Trade Treaty is designed to reduce gun violence right across the world.
I travelled all over the world in my capacity as parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs and went to areas where conflicts were taking place. As a matter of fact, I met a child soldier in Burundi who carried an automatic rifle. The point is that most of the people in these conflicts are getting arms through illegal trade, which is thriving around the world.
How do ISIS members have so many arms to fight with? They got the arms that were abandoned by the army. Nevertheless, there is a vast arms trade where conflicts today are still going on. In Africa, where I have been on many occasions, conflicts carry on. Conflicts carry on in Rwanda and Congo. Conflicts carry on in Burundi. Conflicts have gone on and on, because the illegal arms trade is thriving and people can access weapons.
In contrast, the question is, would the Arms Trade Treaty prevent that? This bill is an attempt to do that, but in Canada, having taken many actions over a period of time, we have controls that, at times, do match and even exceed the Arms Trade Treaty. We do have export controls in our system that ensure we control our arms trade exports. The question was asked whether we should sell arms to countries that abuse human rights, or whether we should not trade with them. Trade would give us the leverage to ask them to improve their human rights records, but we can always decide who we are going to sell arms to.
The issue again is the illegal arms trade. The largest exporters of arms in the world are not going to sign this treaty, and if they are not going to sign it, then how will it have an effect? Would it become another of the UN treaties that does not have teeth in it because major players are not signing it? Anytime we sign an international treaty, the question we need to answer in Canada is, how will it impact the domestic scene?
My colleagues have already indicated this very eloquently. During the time the parliamentary secretary, the NDP, and the Liberals were all asking us to sign the treaty, no one was talking about the impact on the domestic scene.
On the domestic scene, we have already indicated it could have a negative impact on sports gun owners. If it is going to have an impact, would there not then be two points to look at? Number one, is the treaty effective, because as I just pointed out, Russia and the U.S. will not sign it? Number two, will it have a negative impact on the domestic scene? Yes it will, as has already been indicated.
Therefore, what would be the point of signing something that has no value to us? Is it because the NDP and the Liberals want to look good and feel good, like sunny days, and sign the treaty? However, in reality, we are already doing it.
One of the reasons we did not sign it, when we were in government, was because it did not meet the major objectives. We already have and exceed a majority of those points that are mentioned in the treaty, but no one has addressed the issue of where it would overstretch itself in domestic laws. When we pointed this out to the UN, it did not want to change it. Maybe the reason was that in other parts of the world there was not enough sport hunting, or whatever. The fact of the matter is, when we are looking at Canada signing it, we must look at our laws to see how this would impact domestic laws. That has been made very clear.
It becomes pretty obvious that signing the treaty there would be three points. Number one, it was an election promise, and a thorough review was not carried out. Number two, this would impact domestic markets. Number three, it would not be very effective, because of the other players who export arms who will not be signing it.
We have said, and the government has said it, and I am sure my colleagues on the other side would agree, we need to make decisions ourselves as to who we are going to sell these products. Are we going to sell them to countries a, b, c? It is for us to decide, and we do have robust controls, and robust debates going on as to who we should and should not sell to.
One of the aspects of the treaty is that we take away these controls. The treaty would take away the controls from DND as to what it can decide, who can decide, and what it can do. Why are we giving our authority, our sovereignty, over to a treaty that is not a very strong treaty. If this was a very strong treaty, we could look at it. If the UN had come back and said it would take Canada's domestic concerns into account, then we would have signed it when we were in government.
I will just point out that it would not be in the interest of Canada to sign the treaty. We can take the provisions that are in the bill, if the government wants to, to enhance robust ways to ensure we have domestic controls, and exports controls, which we do. It is not a question that we do not have them. We already have them. Therefore, this bill and this whole thing is not really something that enhances anything around the world in stopping the arms flow, or the trade flow that is going on all over the world. Conflicts are going on, and we need to address the bigger issue.
Conflicts are going on around the world. There are conflicts in Africa, conflicts in the Middle East. ISIL is a danger. All of these places are fuelled by arms from the illegal arms trade. We have seen the movie about the blood diamonds, and the Kimberley process was one way to stop the trade in blood diamonds, which was fuelling the illegal arms trade. That was something that we supported. That was a positive step taken internationally to stop the arms trade. These are the kinds of initiatives that we need to take.
It becomes critically important to see how the illegal arms trade is thriving. This is where we can go and where we can put our efforts. There is no point in telling us, because we already have it. It is not that we do not have a record. We already have it. We have good controls, so there is no point in our being penalized to do something that is not going to be effective because the treaty unfortunately does not have teeth.
We can continue. We can return to the UN and suggest we look at this whole thing again, but at this time we would not be supporting it because we do not think it is in the best interests of Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty.
On the international scene, the proliferation of arms is a major concern. The North Korea issue right now of firing ballistic missiles over Japan and not signing this treaty is a cause of concern. Whether it is nuclear weapons or small arms, proliferation is now on the rise around the world. Collectively we would have to go around and ask how we get there.
Following the Cambodian dictatorship, when thousands of people lost their lives, and now with the wars that are going on, there has been a terrible legacy of arms floating around in the world. The UN ought to do better and see how it can somehow get these arms back out of these places. I visited Cambodia and also saw how the mines in Mozambique were maiming people. We had a program to blow up the mines, and I actually had an opportunity to blow up a mine in Cambodia.
The dangers from conflicts and the arms that have been deployed are a cause of concern, and we must carry on addressing them. Of course we all remember that after the fall of the U.S.S.R., we came to remove nuclear weapons there so that they would be removed from the market. The issue is how we can access and address whatever is fuelling all these wars around the world.
Of course, a continuing issue here is what can be done with rogue countries that do not listen to these treaties and do not abide by the treaties. The best example is North Korea. It does not abide by any treaty and is now creating a very dangerous situation.
Having been to South Korea and North Korea and the demilitarized zone, I can tell members that it is a very dangerous situation. I talked to the South Koreans, who live under a constant threat that anything can happen. We can make very big statements, but those who live under this shadow have a very different experience, and they look to countries like ours to see how we can defuse the situation. Canada has a unique position in the world, with our diplomats and so on. We have a good reputation and we can use our good offices.
However, it is critically important that our good offices not be used to go out and sign something that is of no consequence. We should focus our energies on ensuring we get arms out of circulation so the illegal arms trade can be minimized and conflicts can reduced. For example, how do the pirates in Somalia get their weapons? Where do they get their weapons from? How do all these people manage to get weapons? There are no weapons factories at all in Somalia. How does al Shabaab get its arms? These are issues we need to discuss. We need to find out how and why these terrorist groups have easy access to arms. Now we come along, bringing this treaty, and say that this will try to stop it. Well, this treaty is not going to stop it.
Domestically, Canada has robust controls over the arms industry. Canadians should be proud that because of robust arms controls, Canadian arms are not used overseas and are not part of the many conflicts going on. Should it come to light that this is not the case, we can take corrective actions.
Again, one needs to look at the larger picture and ask what we can do to achieve reduction of tensions and wars around the world. That is the objective of the government, as well as of the NDP at the United Nations. That is what we want to achieve. Working collaboratively, we can achieve that. However, when people say that we want to sign a treaty that is totally ineffective and intrudes on our laws locally, that will make Canadians uncomfortable. We already have robust controls to ensure we are not fuelling wars around the world with our arms. Canadians can be proud of that.