Ploughshares in Ottawa: Actions and Impact

Conventional Weapons, News

 

“What do you do?”  When meeting strangers, this question is often near the top of the list.  As the Peace and Human Security Intern at Project Ploughshares, my answer to this question varies weekly.  Yes, I’m involved in research projects, and grant writing, but I’m also posting tweets, supervising volunteers, connecting with local organizations and participating in meetings.  It’s difficult to distill all these tasks into a 30-second ‘elevator speech’.

About once a month, I give presentations to churches and community groups.  Generally, these are ‘Ploughshares 101’ events, introducing our organization and elucidating our contributions to peace and disarmament initiatives.  Simple, right?  Not always.  There are challenges in communicating Ploughshares’ work.  We facilitate conversations, and deliver information to the right hands.  We attempt to influence decision makers, and promote actions and policies that align with our vision.  It’s finicky business.

This blog post highlights the events of March 5, and the resulting cascade of effects.

Last week, representatives from the Control Arms Coalition (Mark Fried – Oxfam Canada, Lina Holguin – Oxfam Quebec, Hilary Homes – Amnesty International, Ken Epps – Project Ploughshares, and myself, Brockenshire Lemiski) met with parliamentarians and government officials to discuss the upcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations at the United Nations (March 18-28 in New York).

The Arms Trade Treaty will be a legally binding document to strengthen the regulation of transfers of conventional weapons and ammunition between states.  A strong ATT will prevent irresponsible and illegal transfers of weapons to those who would use them for crime, acts of terror, human rights violations and genocide.  Last July, after ten years of campaigning by Control Arms, the UN member states met to negotiate the treaty text.  Though these negotiations failed to produce a final treaty, they did produce a draft text.  Next week, Canada will join other nations to resolve outstanding issues with the draft, and attempt to finalize the treaty text.

In Ottawa, Control Arms met with MPs and their assistants.  Throughout the day, we conducted meetings with the members of the Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and Green Party caucuses.  We brought the MPs up to date on treaty negotiations and weaknesses in the current text, and outlined opportunities for the Canadian delegation to support the strongest possible treaty.  During each conversation, we answered technical questions, as well as provided options for parliamentary action to support a strong Canadian position.

After a full day of meetings, what had we accomplished?

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, spoke in the House on March 6th, soliciting a response from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird about Canada’s opposition to the inclusion of corruption criterion in the risk assessment for arms transfers.

Ms. May also published a press release on her website, questioning the ‘inexplicable’ positions that Canada has taken on issues of corruption and brokering in the Arms Trade Treaty.  These concerns were re-iterated in a public letter to Minister Baird, encouraging strong action towards an effective treaty.

Paul Dewar, Foreign Affairs Critic for the NDP, spoke in the House of Commons on Friday, March 8th, questioning the inclusion of gun lobbyists on the Canadian delegation.  Additionally, the NDP posted a news release on their website, urging Canada to take a more constructive role at the upcoming negotiations.

Mark Eyking, Development Critic for the Liberals, spoke in the House, questioning Canada’s opposition to the inclusion of ammunition in a weaker category of risk-assessment than weapons.

Both Mr. Dewar and Mr. Eyking are Vice-Chairs of the Foreign Affairs Standing Committee.  Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister Baird responded to their questions.

Our impact didn’t stop there.

Control Arms members are not the only people following the ATT negotiations.  While we were in Ottawa, Lee Berthiaume, a journalist with PostMedia, interviewed Ken Epps for an article outlining Canada`s objectives at the March conference.  This article appeared Wednesday, March 6 in the National Post, as well as other papers across the country.  The Vancouver Sun published another article by Mr. Berthiaume on Saturday, March 9, again quoting Ken.  This follow-up article raises concerns regarding the presence of Stephen Torino, president of the Canadian Sports Shooting Association as the lone civil society representative on the Canadian delegation at ATT negotiations.

Finally, Control Arms has contributed an op-ed to Embassy Magazine, calling for active diplomacy at the March conference, to ensure that a strong, effective Arms Trade Treaty will exist by the end of this year.

And you thought all we did was research!

 

Brockenshire Lemiski is the 4th Peace and Security Intern with Project Ploughshares.  This internship is a partnership between the Presbyterian Church in Canada and Project Ploughshares, and is funded by the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  If you are interested in hosting a presentation in your community, he would be happy to work with you.  He can be reached by email at blemiski(at)ploughshares(dot)ca.

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