Improve Canadian Arms Control Regime

The Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in December 2014, is the first global, legally binding instrument to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. In April 2017, the Trudeau government introduced legislation to enable Canada to join the ATT. Bill C-47, the proposed legislation, set out amendments to the existing Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA) in order to bring Canada into compliance with the Treaty.  While joining the ATT is a positive step for Canada, Bill C-47 is deeply flawed and fails to comply with the treaty’s essential objective to “establish the highest possible common international standards” for regulating the arms trade. Seeing as Bill C-47 has already received royal assent, Canada must ensure that its export controls are strengthened through regulations and practice. The words of the ATT must be given their full and intended effect. If the government sincerely wishes to comply with the ATT, it will have to adapt its export practices in order to close the many loopholes that remain after Bill C-47.

Overview

The Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in December 2014, is the first global, legally binding instrument to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. It seeks to eradicate the illicit trade of conventional arms, as well as prevent their diversion to unauthorized actors. As of February 2019, 130 states have signed on to the Treaty. These member states have committed to restricting the flow of conventional weapons to conflict zones and countries where there is a risk of human rights violations.

In April 2017, the Trudeau government introduced legislation to enable Canada to join the ATT. Bill C-47, the proposed legislation, set out amendments to the existing Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA) in order to bring Canada into compliance with the Treaty. The Bill received royal assent in December 2018, allowing Canada to become party to the treaty. While joining the ATT is a positive step for Canada, Bill C-47 is deeply flawed and fails to comply with the treaty’s essential objective to “establish the highest possible common international standards” for regulating the arms trade. Without stronger arms controls in place, Canada is acceding to the ATT in name only.

Questions for Federal Candidates

  • Do you believe that it is important to restrict the flow of Canadian-made conventional weapons to conflict zones?
  • Do you believe that Canada should prevent arms sales to countries with poor human rights records?
  • Do you agree with the Canadian government’s decision to maintain its $15 billion sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite signing on to the ATT?
  • Do you believe Canada should be an international leader in assuring the responsible sale and use of conventional arms?

If elected:

  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of the need to strengthen Canadian arms controls?
  • Will you work with your caucus to develop a bill to amend Canada's Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA) to bring Canada's arms controls in line with the ATT standards?
  • Will you work to promote accountability, responsibility, and transparency in Canada’s arms trade?

Supporting Points

  • International Law and the UN Position. The first draft of the ATT was introduced at the United Nations in 2009 by the President of Costa Rica. Following several working group sessions, the official text of the Treaty was re-introduced to the UN General Assembly in 2013. The ATT was then adopted in April 2013 with 154 votes in favour, 3 votes against, and 23 abstentions.[i] Seeing as the ATT is an international treaty, it is considered a piece of international law. States who are party to the treaty are prohibited from transferring conventional arms if the transfer would violate UN arms embargoes or any other international agreements. These states are also prohibited from transferring conventional arms if there exists a possibility of these weapons being used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or other war crimes as defined by international law.[ii] The ATT requires that states take necessary measures to prevent the diversion of arms to unauthorized users, and to ensure that all exports and imports are accounted for through diligent record-keeping.[iii] The ATT, essentially, is designed to enforce fundamental rules of customary international law by denying arms to states that breach international human rights law or international humanitarian law.
  • Canada’s Official Policy. Bill C-47, An Act to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and the Criminal Code, is the Liberal government’s implementing legislation for the Arms Trade Treaty. The Canadian government claims that with Bill C-47 in place, Canada’s arms controls meet the Treaty’s thresholds. However, as it stands, Bill C-47 fails to bring Canada into full compliance with the ATT. For example, under Bill C-47, Canada’s military exports to the United States will remain largely unregulated and unreported. This is due to the fact that, under Canadian export laws, most military goods exported from Canada to the US do not require export permits. This is a significant loophole that undercuts Canada’s ability to know and control where its military equipment ends up. It also puts Canada in violation of Section 5 of the ATT, which requires that the Treaty be implemented in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner.[iv] Furthermore, the EIPA currently grants broad powers to the cabinet, notably the power to exempt any person, organization or good from the provisions of the act. Bill C-47 does not alter this part of the EIPA, and this provision would allow Cabinet to violate the ATT.[v] These are just some of the ways in which Bill C-47 falls short of the letter and spirit of the ATT.
  • Actions by Canadian Allies. Canada’s accession to the ATT was long overdue. In fact, Canada was the last member of NATO to sign the ATT.[vi] While it is true that many of Canada’s allies have adopted weaker implementing legislation or not ratified the treaty at all, other allies have provided an example to follow. Sweden, for example, passed legislation to strengthen Swedish arms export controls by adding a “democracy criterion.” This law requires that the proposed recipient state’s democratic status be a central condition in the evaluation of export license applications. [vii]

Recommendations for Canada

  • Seeing as Bill C-47 has already received royal assent, Canada must ensure that its export controls are strengthened through regulations and practice. The words of the ATT must be given their full and intended effect. For example, Canada must ensure that arms exports to the United States are adequately recorded, even though this is not required under current export laws. If the government sincerely wishes to comply with the ATT, it will have to adapt its export practices in order to close the many loopholes that remain after Bill C-47.
  • Canada must cancel the Saudi Arms deal. It is standard practice for countries to comply with the rules of treaties once they make it clear they intend to ratify or accede to them. Upon ratification of the ATT, Canada should be in full compliance with the Treaty’s requirements. The Canadian government has already stated that its $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a persistent violator of human rights, will be exempt from the provisions of the ATT.[viii] The Saudi Arms deal is exactly the type of transaction that the ATT aims to prevent. In maintaining this contract, the Canadian government will already be in violation of the Treaty’s provisions upon ratification. Furthermore, Bill C-47, with its numerous shortcomings, does not prevent a similarly unethical arms deal from being signed in the future.
  • The Canadian government cannot ignore civil society concerns. Many organizations, including CJPME, voiced concerns about Bill C-47 in government consultations, only for these concerns to be ignored.

 

[i] Arms Trade Treaty. (n.d.). Treaty status. Retrieved March 7th, 2019 from https://thearmstradetreaty.org/treaty-status.html?templateId=209883. 

[ii] United Nations. (2013). The Arms Trade Treaty. Retrieved March 7th, 2019 from https://thearmstradetreaty.org/hyper-images/file/ATT_English/ATT_English.pdf?templateId=137253

[iii] United Nations. (2013). The Arms Trade Treaty. Retrieved March 7th, 2019 from https://thearmstradetreaty.org/hyper-images/file/ATT_English/ATT_English.pdf?templateId=137253

[iv] Amnesty International et al. (2018). “Bill C-47 and Canadian accession to the Arms Trade Treaty civil society concerns and recommendations.” Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

[v] Amnesty International et al. (2018). “Bill C-47 and Canadian accession to the Arms Trade Treaty civil society concerns and recommendations.” Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

[vi] Vucetic, S. (2017). “What joining the Arms Trade Treaty means for Canada.” Open Canada. Retrieved March 7, 2019 from https://www.opencanada.org/features/what-joining-arms-trade-treaty-means-canada/

[vii] Government Offices of Sweden. (n.d.). Stricter rules for arms exports. Retrieved March 7, 2019 from https://www.government.se/press-releases/2017/06/stricter-rules-for-arms-exports/

[viii] Byers, M., & Esmaeilpour, P. (2017). “Bill C-47: An act to facilitate arms exports to countries which violate human rights?” Rideau Institute. Retrieved March 7, 2019 from www.rideauinstitute.ca  

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