Canada’s international firearms commitments

Kenneth Epps Conventional Weapons

Kenneth Epps

Presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, June 21, 2012

Thank you for the invitation to address the Standing Senate Committee on the proposed Firearms Information Regulations. My brief statement today focuses on the implications of the regulations for Canada’s international commitments related to reducing and eliminating firearms trafficking.

Every UN member state recognizes that the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is a widespread and persistent problem. This is because we know international arms trafficking 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 armed violence persists and even is growing in many states.

In the past 15 years 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. In the case of four of the most important of these agreements Canada is unable to meet core commitments and the proposed regulations will make matters worse.

Canada signed the CIFTA Firearms Convention1 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 not ratified the treaty, largely because it has not met provisions for the marking of imported firearms. The proposed elimination of records of sale will reduce Canada’s ability to maintain basic recordkeeping and exchange of information provisions 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.

Similarly, Canada has signed but not ratified the Firearms Protocol of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime which entered into force in 2005.2  Because the Protocol contains provisions parallel to CIFTA it is apparent that Canada will not become party to the protocol for some time either.

The third international agreement, the 2001 UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons,3 is arguably the pre-eminent global agreement to eliminate trafficking in small arms and light weapons. It was agreed at the United Nations by consensus and 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 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.” Eliminating records of sale will ensure 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 Instrument4 was agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2005. ITI provisions emphasize record-keeping and cooperation in tracing with regard to all small arms and light weapons under each state’s jurisdiction. The proposed regulations will hamper Canada’s ability to participate in international cooperation on firearms tracing.

Elimination of records of sale will prevent Canadian implementation of core provisions of these international firearms agreements. They also may impact imports of firearms into Canada. Recent European Union firearms regulations, for example, include specific assessment of international obligations, intended end use, and the risk of diversion of firearms exported by EU states. These raise important questions for Canada — in particular, has the Canadian government consulted with the EU on these regulations and does the Canadian government know how the elimination of records of sale will be assessed by EU exporters?

Thank you for your attention.


1. CIFTA is the Spanish acronym for the “Inter-American Convention Against the llicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials.”
2. Officially the “Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition.”
3. Officially the “Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the llicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,” UN Document A/CONF.192/15.
4. Officially the “International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons.”

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