Lina Holguin, Ken Epps, and Mark Fried
Published by Embassy, an Ottawa-based foreign policy weekly.
A dream 10 years in the making finally became reality June 3, when over 60 countries signed the first ever United Nations Arms Trade Treaty designed to keep weapons out of the hands of unscrupulous arms dealers and human rights violators.
Our joy as members of the Control Arms Coalition was tempered by the federal government’s failure to put Canada’s signature on the treaty.
In April 2013, Canada joined 154 other member states in voting in favour of the ATT’s adoption. We expected Canada to stand with its allies at the signing ceremony last week. Instead, we witnessed a curious parliamentary debate where Foreign Minister John Baird announced his intention to consult with Canadians before making a decision on the ATT.
This turn of events is surprising when, for the past 10 years, thousands of Canadians have rallied around the Control Arms campaign, urging Canada to implement an international treaty that would better regulate the arms trade. Parliamentarians around the world, arms exporting countries, and countries affected by armed violence have all argued forcefully for urgently adopting such a treaty.
Could Minister Baird really be taking his cue from the gun lobby groups, who in turn take their lead from the American National Rifle Association? They claim the ATT would restrict legitimate gun ownership in Canada.
Let us be clear: such claims are false. There is no reason that the ATT should have an impact on the cost or availability of firearms or ammunition for legitimate gun owners in Canada. In fact, the treaty has no jurisdiction over the exchange or sale of firearms and ammunition within Canada.
Furthermore, the ATT does not call for national gun registries. Even under a robust interpretation, the ATT does not require records of individual gun owners or firearms sales to individuals. There is no evidence that any state will use the ATT as an opportunity to institute a national firearms registry—least of all Canada.
The treaty does include an export assessment process to prohibit international transfers when they would breach UN arms embargoes or international laws such as the Geneva Conventions.
The assessment process also prohibits transfers if there is a major risk of undermining peace and security, serious human rights violations or other egregious offences.
It is highly unlikely that a foreign arms exporter would conclude that shipments of firearms or ammunition for use by legitimate Canadian gun owners would result in such breaches or risks.
The false ideas spread by NRA did not stop the United States from announcing it will sign soon.
The same false ideas spread by some groups in Canada should not stop Canada from signing and answering the call issued by the millions of people who live in daily fear of armed violence.
Their suffering is the reason we have campaigned for more than a decade. The humanitarian consequences of the current conflict in Syria underline just how urgently regulation of the arms trade is needed. The ATT will not solve the Syria crisis, but it will surely contribute to preventing similar crises in the future.
For the treaty to become binding, 50 states must ratify it in their own countries. For it to become truly global, we need many more countries on board. This can be done in less than two years, if we all make it a priority.
Today, our message could not be stronger or clearer: Canada must sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty without delay.
Lina Holguin is policy director, Oxfam-Québec; Ken Epps is senior program officer, Project Ploughshares; and Mark Fried is policy co-ordinator, Oxfam Canada. They represent the Control Arms Campaign.
© 2013 Hill Times Publishing