Bill C-19 and Canada’s international firearms commitments

Kenneth Epps Conventional Weapons

Kenneth Epps

Speaking notes for the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, November 22, 2011

Thank you for the invitation to address the Standing Committee on Bill C-19. My name is Ken Epps and I am the Senior Program Officer at Project Ploughshares, a project of the Canadian Council of Churches on peacebuilding and disarmament issues based in Waterloo, Ontario. My statement today will focus on the international dimensions of Bill C-19, in particular, on the implications of the Act for Canada’s international commitments related to reducing and eliminating firearms trafficking and on Canada’s controls for the export of firearms to other states.

Every UN member state recognizes that the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is a widespread and persistent problem. This is because international arms trafficking coincides with and supports other illegal activities such as drug and human trafficking and it feeds lethal violence worldwide. In spite of a general global decline in the number and lethality of armed conflicts, the devastation from criminal, urban, domestic, and other forms of violence persists and even is growing in many states. The authoritative 2011 publication “Global Burden of Armed Violence” estimates that more than half a million people die each year as a result of violence.i

In the past decade and a half Canada has actively supported the development of several regional and global agreements designed to establish international laws and norms to reign in the illicit trade in small arms. I would like to briefly mention four of the most important of these agreements for which Canada will not be able to meet core commitments as a result of Bill C-19.

Canada signed the CIFTA Firearms Convention of the Organization of American States in 1997. CIFTA is a hemispheric, legally-binding agreement to tackle illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms and related materials. Canada has yet to ratify the treaty, largely because it cannot meet CIFTA requirements for marking of firearms imports. The elimination of registration of non-restricted weapons under Bill C-19 will mean that Canada also cannot meet recordkeeping and exchange of information requirements of CIFTA — especially those related to international tracing requests. This means that Canada will not soon become party to the most important anti-firearms trafficking agreement of the Americas. Only three other OAS states have failed to ratify CIFTA, including the US where President Obama has called on the US Congress to pass the treaty into law.

Canada also has signed but not ratified the Firearms Protocol of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime which entered into force in 2005.iii The Protocol contains provisions similar to CIFTA and for the same reasons Bill C-19 will likely condemn Canada to not be party to the protocol for some time. This in spite of the fact that at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia, Prime Minister Harper agreed to the outcome document which called on all Commonwealth states to ratify and implement all the protocols of the UN Crime Convention.

The third international agreement, the 2001 UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons,iv is arguably the pre-eminent global agreement on small arms and light weapons. It was agreed at the United Nations by consensus and calls on all states to “prevent, combat and eradicate” small arms trafficking by strengthening national, regional and global legal systems. Canada, like all other UN member states is politically bound to implement its provisions. At the national level the Programme of Action calls on each state to implement provisions related to improving national standards and, in particular, “to ensure comprehensive and accurate records are kept for as long as possible on the manufacture, holding and transfer of small arms and light weapons under their jurisdiction.” The elimination of registration requirements for non-restricted firearms by Bill C-19 will mean that Canada cannot meet this commitment and others in the Programme of Action.

Finally, as an additional product of the Programme of Action process, the UN International Tracing Instrumentv was agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2005. ITI provisions also include commitments to keep accurate and comprehensive records for all small arms and light weapons in their jurisdiction. Bill C-19 will create a significant hole in Canadian firearms recordkeeping that will reduce Canada’s ability to participate in international cooperation on firearms tracing.

Bill C-19 will have an impact on the Canadian implementation of each of these four international instruments. At a time when the emerging international norms on firearms trafficking require more cooperation among states based on greater firearms accountability by states, Bill C-19 will open significant gaps in Canadian commitments. State partners will conclude that Canada has withdrawn support for strong regional and global action on firearms trafficking and on proliferation and misuse of small arms. Canada’s influence in multilateral small arms forums will be weakened accordingly.

I would like to conclude my remarks with a few words – and a question – about Bill C-19 and Canada’s export controls. Canada’s control of military exports, governed by the Export and Import Permits Act, is important to the practice of foreign policy and international security. Canadian export control guidelines call for the “close control” of military exports to states that are strategically or legally problematic for Canada. Bill C-19 does not refer to the Export and Import Permits Act and consequently, in principle, regulations and procedures for Canadian firearms exports should be unaltered.

Firearms, including non-restricted firearms, are included in Items 2-1 and 2-2 of Group 2 military goods within the Export Control List. The export of Group 2 goods requires authorization by the Export Controls Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Important questions have already been raised about the impact of Bill C-19 on the importation of firearms into Canada. I am pleased to note that according to press reports, Minister Toews has assured Canadians that Bill C-19 will not change the way border officials track Yet, an equally important question – directed I might suggest to Export Control officials – would be: “Will Bill C-19 result in authorization exemptions for exports of non-restricted firearms from Canada – particularly to the US?” I have studied Canadian export controls for many years and I do not know the answer to that question.

Thank you.


i Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011. Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011: Lethal Encounters, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
ii CIFTA is the Spanish acronym for the “Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials.”
iii Officially the “Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition.”
iv Officially the “Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,” UN Document A/CONF.192/15.
v Officially the “International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons.”
vi Globe and Mail, November 15, 2011

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