The office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird ordered last-minute changes to Canada's position on an international arms treaty, as well as to its delegation to meetings at United Nations headquarters, CBC News has learned.
According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, the minister's office ignored advice from the department and ordered civil servants to invite Steve Torino, president of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA), to meetings that ran from July 11-15, 2011, in New York City. The CSSA is an organization that represents thousands of firearms enthusiasts.
The goal of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is to set common standards for the import, export and trade of all conventional weapons in order to prevent illicit or irresponsible transfers of weapons that would fuel conflict, encourage terrorism or organized crime.
The original list of delegates to ATT preparatory meetings included 10 employees from Foreign Affairs and National Defence but not Torino.
In a June 8, 2011, email to colleagues working on the treaty, the head of Canada's delegation, Habib Massoud, said Gordon Cameron from the minister's office gave him notice to expect a last-minute change to the roster — something that had evidently occurred before.
"Like last time, if we are instructed by (the ministers office) to include Mr. Torino on the delegation list we would, of course, do as we are instructed," Massoud wrote. He added that he had informed Cameron that not including Torino was "our best advice."
Ken Epps is with the disarmament group Project Ploughshares in Waterloo, Ont., and has taken part in previous delegations to UN conferences on arms control.
"This is setting a different precedent from what had been the standard procedures prior to that where there had always been a balance on the delegation from the NGO (non-governmental organization) side," he said.
Hélène Laverdière, the NDP's foreign affairs critic and a former diplomat, agreed.
"We can see that what they suggested was thrown aside and politicized, you know, politics replaced good management and that's what we see with this government all the time," she said.
Chris Day, Baird's director of communications, said that is not true.
"As has always been the case for international meetings, the composition of Canadian delegations to this type of international gathering is the minister's prerogative and responsibility," Day said.
Tony Bernardo, executive director of CSSA, said that "the inclusion of Mr. Torino was in recognition that there is a legitimate sporting arms industry in Canada and Mr. Torino provides valuable input as to the potential impact the actions of the Canadian delegation could have on Canadian citizens."
Subsequent correspondence also shows the minister's office ordered last-minute changes to Canada's long-standing position on the treaty.
Canada did make a significant new proposal at the international conference, to exclude all hunting and sporting weapons from the agreement.
The change attracted heaps of scorn. Countries including Nigeria, Brazil, Australia and Mexico publicly opposed the suggestion.
Epps, who attended last summer's conference on his own, said the newly released documents have "confirmed that the gun lobby in Canada is having a significant impact on Canadian foreign policy."
Canada simply wants a treaty that in addition to establishing international standards for transferring arms, "respects the legal trade in arms, including the legitimate trade or use of hunting and sporting firearms," Day said.
Laverdière called Canada's new position an embarrassment.
"Canada, who was at the forefront of many international agreements for arms control, is now the country which is trying to weaken those agreements."
A final meeting to hammer out and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty is due to take place in July 2012.
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15 Things Critics Fear In The Tory Crime Bill
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
15. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
14. Young Offenders - Naming Names
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
13. Young Offenders - Stiffer Sentences
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
12. Young Offenders - Minorities Take The Brunt
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
11. Young Offenders - Forget Rehabilitation
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
10. Fewer Conditional Sentences
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
9. Fewer Conditional Sentences - Spike Costs
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
8. Fewer Conditional Sentences - More Trials And Hearings
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
7. Mandatory Minimums
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
6. Mandatory Minimums - Higher Costs
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
5. Mandatory Minimums - Overcrowding
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
4. Mandatory Minimums - Make Judges Less Powerful
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
3. Mandatory Minimums - Over-Punish Drug Offenders
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums - What's The Point?
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums - What Charter?
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)