Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here today to speak to Bill C-47. Through this bill, our government will move forward on an important commitment we made to ensure that Canada finally accedes to the Arms Trade Treaty.
I am sure that everybody in the chamber will agree with me in saying that all countries have an obligation to take action against the violence that is fuelled by the illicit trade in conventional weapons.
The ATT is the first international treaty that seeks to tackle this illicit trade and, in doing so, take steps against the violence that this trade perpetuates. The ATT sets an essential standard for the international community. In doing so, it seeks to contribute to international and regional peace, security, and stability. It seeks to reduce human suffering and promote co-operation, transparency, and responsible action by countries.
It is due time that Canada join our partners and allies in our accession to the treaty.
I am also proud of the amendments that the foreign affairs committee has made to strengthen the bill. Our government heard from committee members and civil society that they would like to see the ATT criteria placed directly into the legislation, including the considerations of peace and security, human rights, and gender-based violence, and we supported the committee in making these changes. The criteria for applications to export arms from Canada will now be embedded directly into Canadian law.
I am proud to point out that we also made sure to include the consideration of gender-based violence or violence against women and children as a fifth key criterion in this legislation.
We have also made a significant change to the legislation by including a substantial risk test in what is now being proposed. This means that, for the first time, there would be a direct legal requirement for the government to refuse export permits for items where there is a substantial risk that they would be used to violate the criteria.
Bill C-47 would allow Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty, allow Canada to meet its international obligations, and, significantly, ensure that Canada holds itself to a higher standard in the export of arms.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said before the foreign affairs committee in February, it is long overdue that Canada join many of its NATO and G7 partners by acceding to the ATT. We have heard support for the Arms Trade Treaty from civil society, from non-governmental organizations, and from Canadians. We also heard the clear desire to do better and to be ambitious in our strengthening of Bill C-47.
Originally, we had planned to place the criteria by which exports are judged, including human rights, into regulation, but we heard from committee members and civil society that they would like to see the Arms Trade Treaty criteria placed directly into legislation. Once again, let me reiterate that this would include the consideration of peace and security, human rights, and gender-based violence.
Going further than that, the bill now includes a substantial risk clause. Such a clause would mean that Canada would not allow the export of arms if there was a substantial risk that they would be used to commit human rights violations. This is a significant decision. It would mean changes in how Canada regulates selling weapons. This is the most significant change to how Canada evaluates the export of military goods in over 30 years. It is simply the right thing to do.
The Arms Trade Treaty is the result of growing international concern about the direct and indirect consequences of the global arms trade, which perpetuates conflicts that violate human rights and hinder development. We must provide constructive, rules-based leadership on the international stage and with our partners to promote peace, security, and prosperity around the world.
The Arms Trade Treaty recognizes the right of states to engage in the legitimate and responsible trade of arms. It requires that those weapons be exported responsibly. It is aimed at ensuring that individual states have an effective export control system in place to regulate the legitimate arms trade while, at the same time, using transparency measures to combat illicit trade. It requires all its state parties to adhere to a high standard when assessing the export of conventional weapons to ensure that they are not used to commit human rights abuses, violate international humanitarian law, or contribute to international terrorism or organized crime.
It is important to note that the ATT does not require its member states to automatically halt all exports to countries with challenging geopolitical or security situations. Rather, states must assess the risk of an individual export and consider options to mitigate potential risk. In other words, states must apply due diligence in considering exports and weigh both the risks and the benefits of specific exports of conventional arms.
It is also important to note that, despite some claims to the contrary, the ATT does not and will not affect domestic ownership of firearms. This principle is even enshrined in the preamble of the treaty, which recognizes “the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership and use are permitted or protected by law”.
Bill C-47 does not affect domestic gun controls. Bill C-47 does not create a gun registry. Despite this reality, the Conservatives are trying to fearmonger and make things up, which I am not surprised they are doing. They have put forward a motion that ignores the reality of Bill C-47.
As I noted, our government is committed to returning Canada to its rightful place among global leaders in promoting responsible arms trade. It is shameful that Canada has not already become party to the ATT. We are alone among NATO allies, G7 partners, and even the OECD states in not having signed or ratified the treaty. Canadians want better of their government. They expect us to participate in multilateral efforts to ensure that any transfers of conventional arms are done responsibly.
Bill C-47 sets a high standard that lives up to the letter and the spirit of the ATT and reflects the leadership role that Canadians expect Canada to play in this most important area.
The ATT also specifically requires that states assess their exports against the risk to peace, security, and human rights, as well as against the risk of violence and gender-based violence. That is an important issue to consider in modern-day export assessments, but one that was not officially taken into account 10 or 20 years ago.
Our government intends to have Canada go even further than required by the ATT with regard to gender-based violence and violence against women and children. We are therefore proposing that exports not only be assessed against the risk that such horrible situations could occur, but also, unlike the ATT itself, against the same standards that are used for all of the other ATT considerations. That means that gender-based violence and violence against women and children will also be subject to the substantial risk clause.
A second major step for Canada's accession to the ATT will be to ensure that we meet the requirements of article 10, which requires each state to regulate brokering. Brokering involves arranging the transfer of arms between a second and a third country. Brokering itself is not a crime, and responsible arms brokers can play a legitimate role in arranging and facilitating sales. However, there have also been far too many cases of unscrupulous arms brokers putting profit ahead of human lives. Transactions facilitated by these brokers have seen weapons transferred to conflict zones, even zones under UN arms embargoes, or to terrorists and criminal gangs. Nevertheless, Canada is coming late to regulating brokering. Almost all of our close partners regulate this activity. We seek to bring Canada up to speed.
However, Canada cannot deal with the risks of the unregulated or irresponsible arms trade alone. If we want to guarantee that the ATT will be successful, we need to make sure that it is adopted and implemented effectively by as many states as possible. This is why our government contributed $1 million to the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation. This fund provides direct assistance to help states accede to the ATT and fulfill their obligations by strengthening their export controls. Canada's accession to the ATT will help us collaborate more effectively with our international partners to counter the negative effects of conventional weapons in conflict zones.
We have also developed a partnership with international NGO Small Arms Survey to combat the flow of illegal arms in the Lybia-Chad-Sudan triangle. The results of the survey will help Canada implement concrete follow-up measures to reduce the flow of illicit weapons through the channels identified by the NGO and make a real contribution to the everyday lives of those in the region who live under the threat of conventional weapons.
I would like to make a final point about Bill C-47 and the Arms Trade Treaty. Some have criticized this bill for not going far enough or have taken issue with certain parts of it. I do not agree. We have gone back to the drawing board numerous times to accept amendments and challenge ourselves to make it stronger each and every time. That being the case, I try to understand where these perspectives come from. Just the same, I would encourage those persons, including some members of the House, not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The objective of the Arms Trade Treaty is to “[p]revent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion”. Canada should and must play a role in combatting this diversion and the violence it creates. Let us not lose sight of the real aim of the Arms Trade Treaty.
The aim of this legislation is not to end the defence industry, as we may infer from the comments of some of the members opposite throughout debate in the House and at committee. This industry is integral to our economy and key in supplying our own military. Whether or not some members of the House think the changes to Canada's arms export system go far enough, we should not ignore the fact that including the ATT criteria in legislation and creating a new and legally binding substantial risk clause are the most significant changes to how Canada evaluates the export of arms in over 30 years.
We need to work together to ensure that Canada can join the Arms Trade Treaty. Our allies all did it years ago. This is our collective duty. Let us not cut off our nose to spite our face. Let us be proud of the changes brought forth in Bill C-47.
Let me close by saying that I firmly believe that Canada can once again take a leadership role on this issue in joining the ATT. I encourage all my colleagues in the House to support this bill.