Canada has modified its controversial position on a United Nations arms control treaty.


In a new position paper submitted to the UN, the federal government has dropped its proposal to exclude all sporting and hunting firearms from the international Arms Trade Treaty, an agreement that seeks to regulate the import, export and transfer of all conventional weapons.


Last summer Canada surprised many and attracted heaps of scorn from countries such as Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, when it changed its stance on the treaty and advocated for the exclusion of so-called "civilian" firearms.


In particular, the Mexicans said that in their experience, a great number of arms confiscated from its notorious gangs are sporting and hunting firearms that have been modified and transformed into assault weapons.


Some non-governmental observers predicted Canada's new position could have helped derail the entire process.


The proposal to exclude those weapons is absent from Canada's new position paper, submitted to the UN last month.


Instead, Canada recommends changes to the treaty's preamble to underline that the agreement "acknowledges and respects responsible and accountable trans-national use of firearms for recreational purposes, such as sport shooting, hunting and other forms of similar lawful activities, whose legitimacy is recognized by the States Parties."


Change welcomed


Project Ploughshares, which was among the non-governmental organizations that registered its opposition to the exclusion of hunting and sports firearms from the ATT, said it welcomed the changes, calling it a compromise.


"We're pleased to see that Canada has toned down its call for exemptions on certain classes of firearms and is now calling for preamble language in the treaty that would recognize legitimate uses of firearms," said Ken Epps, a senior program officers with the group.


Epps said the new document is helpful.


"In fact it will help to clarify that the treaty is not about domestic gun ownership or use or even transfers of firearms within states like Canada."


Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, is also pleased with the changes.


"We would support this version of the Arms Trade Treaty document from Canada as it empowers independent nations to set their own discretionary policies regarding civilian-owned firearms within their borders."


Bernardo said his take on the preamble is that Canada does not want "civilian" firearms included within the scope of the treaty.


In its position paper, Canada says it supports the inclusion of small arms, light weapons and ammunition within the ATT, "in keeping with the principle of national discretion."


Epps said he feels that section needs tightening up, "because national discretion could be another term for states deciding whether or not to implement the treaty and that shouldn't be up for different interpretations."


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