Mr. Speaker, the Arms Trade Treaty is an important treaty, which sets high common standards for export controls and seeks to prevent the illicit trade in, and diversion of, arms. Our government is committed to acceding to the treaty and doing so in a manner that meets the requirements of the treaty and the expectations of Canadians and our friends and allies in the international community. This legislation, Bill C-47, is required for Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. More people around the world are killed by conventional weapons, mainly small arms, than any other type of weapon.
Let us be clear about what this bill aims to accomplish. It is to stop guns from getting into the hands of foreign terrorists, war criminals, organized crime, and rapists. I am, frankly, stunned that the Conservatives and NDP both voted against this bill at report stage. I would have hoped that this bill would have passed unanimously. Every day that goes by, human rights defenders, women peace activists, and civilians are being killed.
As I mentioned in my previous intervention in the House, I have worked in conflict-affected areas around the world, and the women there implored Canada not to wait, to stop delaying the ratification of this treaty. They told me that their countries do not manufacture weapons. Every gun that is used to commit sexual violence, given to a child soldier, or used by armed militia groups was brought into their country. This bill would allow Canada to finally ratify this vital global treaty, which will stop the trade in illicit weapons and, in particular, finally regulate the brokering of weapons that is happening right here in Canada, simply because we are one of the last of our allies to ratify the treaty and to enact regulations on brokering. Even the Americans are ahead of us in this regard. In fact, the State Department has been working with Global Affairs Canada to help us revise and improve our brokering controls. The U.S. has already implemented controls that are consistent with the Arms Trade Treaty.
With that, I would like to address what the NDP is calling a loophole in the legislation, which is our separate defence and security agreement with the United States. This agreement is completely consistent with the Arms Trade Treaty. In fact, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have almost the same kind of arrangement. Just because we have a specialized agreement with the Americans does not mean that there will be a free flow of guns from Canada to the U.S. to human rights-abusing countries, as the NDP would have us believe. In fact, we heard from the U.S. office of defence trade control policy and the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers that their controls regarding diversion of arms are often stricter than Canada's. For example, the U.S. end-user controls, the blue lantern program, controls on M and A and foreign sales of companies, and see-through rules on dual-use technology are actually more advanced than ours.
The Americans share our interest in making sure weapons do not end up in the hands of terrorists and criminals. For the NDP to use this as an excuse to actually vote against this legislation is, to me, more rooted in partisanship than in an actual desire to see innocent civilian lives being saved around the world, especially since our committee members worked so well together and passed some very substantive amendments to the bill at committee stage.
Let me address what the NDP said about going back to the drawing board. The fact is that we need Bill C-47, especially the brokering controls that are contained within it, in order to be able to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. Those who vote against the bill are, in essence, voting against the Arms Trade Treaty, because we need the bill in order to accede to the treaty. I would also like to point out that, once Canada adheres to the treaty, it is binding on Canada. Every single clause within that treaty will be legally binding, both under international law and, thanks to the committee work, also under Canadian law.
The Conservatives' argument that this bill will in any way impact domestic gun ownership is equally fallacious, but to assuage these concerns, the committee also passed amendments to even further reinforce and clarify this fact. Not one of the witnesses said that Bill C-47 would create a new gun registry. Again, I am disappointed that the Conservatives do not share our urgency about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and war criminals.
Accession to the Arms Trade Treaty received broad support from civil society, non-governmental organizations, industry, and Canadians, at second reading and while it was being studied in committee. However, we also heard the voices of those who are asking us to do better and to strengthen this bill. Our government took note of what was said at committee stage. We proposed additional amendments to Bill C-47 to strengthen it.
Under the ATT, the Minister of Foreign Affairs must take into account certain mandatory export assessment considerations, such as the risk that the export could be used to commit a serious violation under international, humanitarian, or human rights law. These are listed in article 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty, which includes undermining peace and security, committing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, terrorism, organized crime, and acts of gender-based violence.
The government had originally planned to put these criteria, including human rights, into regulation; but our committee heard from civil society that they would like to see the Arms Trade Treaty criteria placed directly into legislation.
We amended the bill by placing the ATT assessment criteria directly in legislation. Let me be clear: with this bill, the Arms Trade Treaty is binding on Canada both under international law and under Canadian law. To say that Bill C-47 is not fully consistent with the Arms Trade Treaty is absolutely untrue. In fact, with our committee amendments we actually exceed the requirements under the treaty.
For example, I am pleased that the committee accepted my amendment to add into legislation the ATT requirement that the article 7 criteria be subject to an overriding risk test that applies when there is a determination that there is a risk of certain negative consequences to the export.
In fact, the work of our committee shows what a significant difference we can make by adding or changing just a few words. We amended the bill to add the words “substantial risk”, meaning that, rather than the minister determining whether there is conclusive evidence that a certain arms export is being used for human rights abuses, now the minister must determine if there is a substantial risk of such abuses, which is much broader.
Even more important, we proposed that the wording be changed from “may” to “shall”, one single word change that is going to make a tremendous difference. It now says that the Minister of Foreign Affairs “shall” take into account all of the assessment criteria before issuing an export permit, as opposed to the more enabling “may” take into account. Again, this is an indication of the tremendous work of our committee.
This amendment imposes an obligation on the minister that does not exist in the current system. This means that the government will not allow the export of a controlled good if there is a substantial risk that it could be used for human rights abuses. In the enhanced version of Bill C-47, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is required to ensure that we are reasonably convinced that this controlled good will not be used to violate human rights.
To our knowledge, Canada will be the only country among our key allies to place the ATT risk test in domestic legislation.
In addition to placing the core ATT assessment considerations in legislation, we also wanted to add some measure of flexibility to these considerations in the future, without the requirement of having to return to Parliament.
The proposed changes to this bill not only meet the ATT criteria, but exceed them in some cases. Acceding to the Arms Trade Treaty will send a message to the international community that Canada is firmly committed to the responsible trade of conventional weapons.
The fact that we are going above and beyond the minimum requirements of the treaty in a number of areas demonstrates that we are fulfilling an additional challenge that we have set for ourselves to do even better.
I intend to continue working with my colleagues in the House on this important bill in order to finally take the necessary steps for Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty.