Adjournment Proceedings – Arms Trade

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise early this morning on adjournment proceedings to pursue a question I raised in the House with the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, although I initially put the question for the Prime Minister, on March 6 of this year.
This pertains to an issue that could not be more timely. That is why I accepted the opportunity to debate on the matter after 1 a.m. this morning rather than risk not being able to put the question for the hon. parliamentary secretary for a response.

The issue I raised March 6 was with respect to the treaty on conventional arms. It is the arms trade treaty. When I raised the issue, March 18 was still ahead of us and the United Nations was going to be debating this critical treaty.

As I stated in my question for the hon. minister, I was grateful for the fact that Canada was overall supportive of the treaty, but it did seem strange that we had decided not to support the important criterion that if corruption was at stake, it should be one of the measurements of whether an arms deal should be approved under the treaty. I also wanted to have the assurance of the Prime Minister that Canada was supporting all elements of the treaty.

This treaty did go to successful conclusion in negotiations at the special session of the United Nations that began on March 18. There was a great deal of celebration around the world for that and Canada did vote for the treaty.

However, the news reports that came out of New York, following the treaty’s acceptance, suggested that Canada’s support was somewhat lukewarm. There have been efforts to find out whether Canada plans to sign on as an early ratifier so we can be part of getting this treaty operationalized globally.

Spokesmen from the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs have been somewhat equivocal about whether Canada will join on soon. I put that in contrast with Norway, New Zealand and Japan, countries that have said, yes, that they will sign on when the treaty is open for signature, which happens as early as this coming Monday, June 2. Therefore, we will see countries signing on and as soon as 50 countries have ratified, the arms trade treaty will take effect.

Let me just review what this treaty would do. It would create common international standards for the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms ammunition, parts and components. It applies to tanks and all manner of munitions. It will help make the world safer.

We have been troubled by the fact that the non-government organizations allowed on the Canadian delegation were limited to groups that supported the use of private long guns. That is perfectly appropriate within Canada. However, it is a mismatch when we are looking at a global treaty to protect nations around the world from the damage done by a conventional arms trade.

Therefore, I look forward to words from the parliamentary secretary, my friend. I hope he will confirm that Canada has decided to be an early adapter, a country that will ratify along with Norway, New Zealand and Japan, at our earliest opportunity when the treaty opens for signature on June 3. It would be welcomed news for Canadians who yearn for us to return to our traditional role of leadership in peacekeeping and in making the world a safer place.

Deepak Obhrai: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for raising this question, even this late at night.

Canada already has some of the highest standards for the export of conventional arms. The items included in the ATT are already subject to export controls in Canada. Furthermore, Canada already applies the criteria set out in the ATT when considering arms export.

Despite the high standards set by Canada, international trade in conventional arms remains poorly controlled in many parts of the world. Providing arms to insurgents, terrorists, transnational criminal groups and rogue regimes undermines international security and trade interests. It is for this reason that Canada participated in the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty that would help curtail illicit and irresponsible arms transfers.

Our Conservative government supports the rights of legitimate law-abiding gun owners and to that end, we eliminated the unfair burden of the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.

It was and remains very important to Canada that an ATT not hinder legal and responsible international trade in conventional arms or create new burdens for Canadian industries or firearms owners. We played a key role in ensuring that the ATT acknowledges the lawful ownership of firearms by responsible private citizens.

The government supported the inclusion of anti-corruption language in the ATT. In fact, Canada already considers corrupt practices when looking at the risk of diversion associated with the proposed export. This is consistent with the government’s anti-corruption efforts in domestic and international spheres, including our work within the G20 and the United Nations.

Canada worked closely with our friends and allies in an attempt to negotiate an instrument that would help keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and human rights abusers, while at the same time recognizing and protecting the ability of the law-abiding private firearms owners to enjoy the recreational use of their firearms in a responsible manner.

The government is now consulting all interested stakeholders on the ATT in order to gain their insight and analysis.

The views of all interested parties in Canada will serve to better inform the government as we decide our next step.