Canada: Arms Control or Arms Sales?

Joe Foster

Once a world leader in Human Rights, Canada is now reluctant to ratify the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). “Canada should take leadership and stop catering to gun lobbies and ratify the treaty,” said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands. “For every day we wait for the treaty to become international law, hundreds of innocent citizens in conflict zones, often women and children, are murdered.”

On April 2nd 2013, the General Assembly of the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) adopted the Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the international trade in conventional arms ranging from rifles to tanks, combat planes, and warships. The treaty will stop arms flowing into conflict regions and reduce human rights abuses.

Currently, international weapons commerce has been estimated to reach US$ 70 billion a year. If diverted to international poverty alleviation, this money would achieve far more in improving international security. To date, the ATT has 116 signatories but only 9 countries have ratified the Treaty (50 is required for bringing this into law).

In spite of this knowledge, as the Green Party noted last year, Canada completed a controversial free trade deal with Colombia, and now has offered its gun merchants "new market opportunities" to export banned assault weapons to Colombia, one of the world's most violent countries. Eric Walton, Green Party Foreign Affairs Critic observed, “Canada’s primary interest to date has been protecting the rights of Canadian arms dealers and firearm owners. It is no secret that this focus stems from the influence of the gun lobbies in Canada and the US.”

He also noted that the Treaty also covers ammunition. “While arms are often recirculated, and we can see this particularly in countries without ammunition, they are a lot less lethal.  We have seen in some conflict zones that the supply of ammunition is literally the fuel that keeps the conflict going.”

Joe Foster, Green Party Human Rights Critic added, “Personal safety is a basic human right. People around the world, including Canadians, must continue to urge their governments to recognize the importance of this landmark agreement. They must urge their governments to take immediate action to ratify it to prevent human rights abuses and violations. Wars that are presently taking place in such places as South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Syria are only possible because small arms are imported.”

Unfortunately, in 2014, millions of people are still affected by armed conflicts. The treaty creates a safer environment for the UN to deliver humanitarian assistance, to help in peacekeeping and peace building, to promote the rights of women and children, to assist refugees and internally displaced people, and to promote the rule of law. Stability fosters social and economic development.