Canada is not among the nations to ratify the new United Nations Arms Trade Treaty that seeks to better regulate the $85-billion global arms industry and thus prevent weapons from ending up in the wrong hands.
The treaty will come into effect in December, now that over 50 UN member states have ratified the document. Countries that have agreed to the treaty are prevented from authorizing any transfer of arms if they have any knowledge that the weapons would be used on attacks against civilians or otherwise used in contravention of the Geneva Convention.
Canada has neither signed nor ratified the treaty. The United States, which supplies arms to 170 countries, has signed the treaty—a precursor to ratification—but has not yet ratified it. Half of the 10 largest arms exporters—France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Great Britain—have ratified the treaty.
Canada's position is unclear. While the website of Canada's mission to the UN states that "Canada supports, in principle, the negotiation of a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty under UN auspices," Ottawa refuses to sign on.
François Lasalle—spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada—told Canadian Mennonite in an e-mail that "Canada already has some of the strongest export controls in the world," and that signing the treaty would bring other countries up to Canada's export-control standards. Lasalle also said, "It is important that such a treaty should not affect lawful and responsible firearms owners, nor discourage the transfer of firearms for recreational uses."
The U.S. government, which contends with a powerful gun lobby, has said the treaty would have no effect on domestic arms use.
Ottawa says it will "continue to consult with Canadians and the provinces," and will ensure that any treaty it signs is "good for Canada, and good for Canadians."
Under the treaty, signatory states enforce their own compliance.
In a joint article in the Ottawa Citizen in September, representatives of Project Ploughshares, Amnesty International and Oxfam wrote: "It’s hard to fathom why the government of Canada has failed to act on a treaty aimed at preventing weapons from falling into the hands of human-rights abusers, criminals and terrorists."
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada has urged Ottawa to sign the treaty. In an Oct. 10 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding the current conflict with Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, the non-governmental organization called on Ottawa to take "immediate steps to sign the Arms Trade Treaty," drawing a link between the under-regulated international arms trade and the violence in the region.
The 2014 MCC Canada Peace Sunday Packet includes a sample letter Canadians can send to the prime minister regarding the treaty.
According to a Project Ploughshares report, in 2010-11, Canada exported arms to Colombia, Nigeria, Thailand, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, all states hosting armed conflicts or serious human rights violations.