Mr. Speaker, I am very moved to stand in the House today to speak to this issue. As parliamentarians, we occasionally have the opportunity to address issues that are of fundamental importance not only to Canadians but to people around the world. I cannot think of any issues that are more important to people in our globe than those that concern safety, security, and peace. These are foundational issues upon which all other activities depend.
We are witnessing conflicts and violence in this world, both civil and across borders, that represent a failure of the international order. The treaty before us gives us an opportunity to improve our world.
As parliamentarians, we spend a lot of time saying “human rights”, “rule of law”, “democracy”, and “freedom”. These are words that have intense meaning and importance to Canadians and people around the globe. The complete antithesis occurs when people resort to arms, to force, to violence as a means of altering political or social reality in this world. There is nothing more antithetical to the rule of law than the rule of violence. There is nothing more opposite to democratic and peaceful resolutions of disputes between people than people picking up guns and firing at one another as a means of trying to settle disputes.
As one member of this House, I am very pleased to see the Liberal government accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. In fact, I had the opportunity to be in New York at the United Nations for one of the sessions where this issue was being debated. Illicit and irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons are a significant factor in human suffering worldwide, fuelling armed violence in all of its forms, including domestic violence, international armed conflicts, and civil disputes.
With the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty in December 2014, the majority of the world states agreed to establish global standards for responsible national decision-making on the transfer of conventional weapons. For the life of me, I cannot understand how any responsible legislator, not only in this country but in the world, could oppose the establishment of such a regime.
At the time, Stephen Harper's Conservative government refused to join the Arms Trade Treaty. Canada was the only member of NATO and the G7 not to have signed the ATT. I was embarrassed by that failure, and I think I speak for the vast majority of Canadians who were embarrassed by that move as well. The majority of Canadians want our country to be a responsible member of the international stage, doing our part to try to reduce violence in the world, to try to be an honest broker and help make and keep peace wherever there is conflict in the world.
In June of 2016, the current government announced that Canada would join the Arms Trade Treaty, and former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion tabled the text of the treaty and an explanatory memorandum in the House of Commons. The goal of acceding to the Arms Trade Treaty was included in the mandate letter given to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I support that measure.
Bill C-47, the bill before this House today, represents the legislative implementation of that commitment, and it includes legislative amendments to fulfill some of the treaty's provisions and bring Canada's laws and policies mostly into compliance with the ATT. Members will have noticed that I emphasized the word “some”. I will be focusing on some of the weaknesses and omissions in this bill, and I hope parliamentarians on all side of the House can roll up their sleeves and in good faith work to repair and improve them.
At present, we support the general thrust of this legislation, but we have serious concerns about its contents, particularly over what is missing.
Generally, polls show that most Canadians disapprove of arms deals with human rights abusers. I think many Canadians would be shocked to learn that Canadian weapons exports have nearly doubled over the last 10 years under the Conservative government's stewardship. While Canada used to export arms mostly to NATO countries, under the Conservative government our arms exports shifted to include many countries with troubling—in fact, abysmal—human rights records. Canada is now the second-largest arms dealer in the Middle East after the United States, according to defence industry publication Jane's. Saudi Arabia is now the world's second-largest buyer of Canadian-made military equipment after the United States.
I want to pause for a moment and talk about Saudi Arabia.
This is a place that practises beheadings. This is a place where women cannot vote. This is a place where, up until recently, women could not even drive a vehicle, although I understand that Saudi Arabia has recently announced that it may start allowing women to drive vehicles. This is a country that has no record of democracy or respect for human rights whatsoever, and most troubling of all, Saudi Arabia is not restricting this heinous and abysmal human rights record to its own borders but has been involved in invading a neighbouring country, Yemen, where it is using Canadian-made military equipment against civilians in another country.
I would dare say that most Canadians do not support that. Most Canadians would like to see the present government take every possible step to cease exporting any military equipment to a country with that kind of human rights record, a country that is using aggressive weapons against innocent civilians.
Canada's existing arms export rules are supposed to prohibit sales of military hardware to countries whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population. However, the example I just pointed out, and there are others, makes it clear that Canada's arms export controls are not working. While the Liberal government argues, as the Conservatives did before it, that Canada has strong arms export regulations, in recent months Canadians have grown increasingly concerned about those Canadian arms exports falling into the wrong hands. Worse, it was revealed last August that the Government of Canada has actually weakened its arms export policy to make it easier to export military hardware to states that abuse human rights.
The magazine L'actualité recently published an analysis that found that in the past 25 years Canada sold $5.8 billion in weapons to countries with deeply questionable human rights records. Canadian foreign ministers are often reluctant to refuse export permits after contracts are signed, but that is exactly what Canadian law calls for. Companies enter into commercial agreements, and then it is up to the government to issue export control permits and to cease from doing so if Canada has reason to believe that those arms are going to fall into the hands of human rights abusers or be used against civilian populations. That policy has not been implemented well by either the current government or the one before it.
I am going to quickly point out some of the flaws in the bill.
It has been pointed out by many speakers that ironically, most of Canada's arms are integrated with the U.S. military system, yet the bill does not apply to Canadian arms shipments to the United States. There is no principled reason that the United States should receive an exemption from the very laws that we seek to apply to every other country.
The bill also fails to ensure that parliamentarians can scrutinize the regulatory regime that will create the substance of the bill. We are debating the legislative structure before us, but we as parliamentarians will not be able to see or influence how the regulations will be drafted. Those will be done behind closed doors.
I will conclude by saying I think that most Canadians want to see Canada as a peaceful player on the world stage. They want to restore our reputation, which was severely damaged by the previous government over the last decade, and they want Canada to be a respected international player, doing our part to build bridges between countries to help them resolve their disputes peacefully and building capacity for democracy and respect for the rule of law. The way to do that is by taking every measure we can to reduce the flow of arms to people who would use them for poor purposes.