During the past two years, the Harper government has clearly demonstrated its shortcomings on two major issues: banning cluster munitions and the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. Let's look at each in turn.
Bill C-6, which addresses the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions concerns one of the most horrible conventional weapons ever invented. These munitions deploy tiny bomblets by the thousands, many of which do not detonate upon impact, but rather lie in wait until they are accidentally disturbed, killing and injuring civilians in the resulting explosions years or even decades after being dropped.
While Minister John Baird has stood up more than once in Parliament to decry the use of these weapons and spoken with emotion of his visit to Laos where authorities are still trying to clear the land of cluster munitions, he has also steadfastly refused to modify the Government's current bill which is still seriously flawed because it can allow a Canadian soldier operating in joint operations with some of our allies to authorize the use of cluster bombs if one of those allies still uses them. An example would be the United States, one of our strongest allies, which has not yet banned the use of cluster munitions.
All opposition parties and many NGOs have repeatedly pleaded with the government to correct this flaw in its legislation, but to no avail.
In the Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Standing Committee, I have also urged the government to go the extra step of stating that it will not only never use cluster munitions on its own (which it has pledged) but that it will also not operate with other allies unless they specifically state that they will not use cluster munitions while operating with Canadian Forces.
Canada must demonstrate its leadership on this critical issue. So far, it has completely failed to do so and worse still, is pretending to be against cluster munitions while still allowing an important loophole in the authorization of such weapons by a Canadian soldier.
The bottom line is simple to understand: under the current bill a Canadian officer could one day authorize the use of Cluster munitions on the battlefield.
Let's move now to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty which was introduced in April 2013. As of the 16th of June 2014, 118 countries have signed it and 41 have ratified it. The Treaty comes into effect once it is ratified by 50 countries. Canada has yet to ratify it let alone sign it.
The aim of the Treaty is to prevent "any transfer of conventional arms (to another country) if (Canada) has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party."
On the face of it, what country could be against the ratification of an international treaty aimed at minimizing the illegal sale of arms to terrorist organizations? The answer? Canada!
Why? Because the government says it's concerned that the treaty might infringe upon the rights of lawful Canadian gun owners.
There are absolutely no grounds for this concern. Indeed, the treaty's preamble affirms "the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system."
Canada has a leadership responsibility to do the right thing. Recoiling from that responsibility is not only hypocritical, it's irresponsible. Do we really want to be grouped with the dwindling number of holdouts who have decided not to sign the Treaty: Iran, Syria, North Korea and Russia?
It's long past time for Prime Minister to do what is right: modify Bill C-6 and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.