Mr. Speaker, I would like to address an important issue on Bill C-6, An Act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The NDP opposes Bill C-6 in its current form on the grounds that it contradicts and undermines the international treaty it is supposed to implement. Bills that implement international treaties should not work at cross purposes from the treaty itself.
The NDP attempted to amend the bill at committee, however, the Conservatives only allowed one small change, which would leave its weak support for the treaty in place.
Let us be clear about how serious this issue is and how dangerous cluster munitions are. Cluster munitions can release hundreds of explosives over a large area in a very short period of time and have a devastating impact on civilians that can last many years after the conflict has ended.
In 2006, 22 Canadian Forces members were killed and 112 wounded in Afghanistan as a result of land mines, cluster bombs and other explosive devices.
Submunitions are very small, often similar in size to a D battery or a tennis ball. Furthermore, 30% remain unexploded and become, in fact, landmines. A single cluster bomb holds hundreds of submunitions, enough to cover an area the size of two to four football fields.
As members can see, these incredibly small devices, the size of a tennis ball, can project death and danger as far as four football fields away.
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 successes of the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines. There are 113 countries who have signed the convention and 84 have ratified.
The U.S., China and Russia did not participate in the process, and continue to have stockpiles of cluster munitions. Despite strong opposition from the majority of participating states and non-governmental organizations, Canada succeeded in negotiating into the final text of the convention an article which would explicitly allow for continued military interoperability with non-party status, article 21.
Earl Turcotte was the former senior coordinator for Mine Action at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which are two very left-wing organizations. 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, the Ottawa convention. It is significant therefore that Mr. Turcotte resigned as a result of Canada's attempting to implement weak legislation.
Mr. Turcotte joined many Canadians and our party in advocating for stronger legislation. He said:
—the proposed...legislation is the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the convention, 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.
Imagine that: Canada's bill to implement the international treaty is the worst of any country and an epic failure in so many ways.
Of course, Bill C-6 goes beyond interoperability. The main issue is actually clause 11 and its vague list of exceptions. According to the Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross, clause 11 would authorize activities that would undermine the purpose of the CCM and ultimately contribute to the continued use of cluster munitions instead of bringing about their elimination.
In its original form, the clause permitted Canadian soldiers to use, acquire, process or transport cluster munitions whenever they were acting in conjunction with another country that was not a member of the convention and to request the use of cluster munitions by another country.
At the foreign affairs committee, the NDP supported Canadian and international civil society groups in pushing for changes to the bill. We engaged closely with the government in public and thorough direct dialogue to encourage improvements to the legislation. We were successful in persuading the government to formally prohibit the use of cluster munitions by Canadian soldiers.
Clause 11 of Bill C-6 would go far beyond the language of article 21, and anyone from the international committee of the Red Cross to the Canadian responsible for drafting article 21 agrees on that. The Conservatives are alone in thinking that clause 11 is in line with the convention. The NDP amendment would have replaced this loophole language with an actual text of the convention. Without amendments to rectify these loopholes, Canada's commitment to ending the use of cluster munitions would be superficial at best.
We want to protect our soldiers from cluster munitions, to ensure that they are neither the users nor the victims. That objective is only possible if there is a full commitment by the entire country to the letter and the spirit of the treaty banning these weapons.
Until then, the convention allows interoperability. There is therefore no reason to use the overly broad wording proposed in Bill C-6.
Let me also cite the former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser. He said, “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”.
Indeed, Bill C-6 may even damage the convention as a whole by establishing an international precedent for opt-outs and exemptions. We need some good amendments to the bill to gain our support and the support of the international community.