Final countdown to UN Arms Trade Treaty starts but Canada missing in action

By Hilary Homes (Amnesty International Canada), Robert Fox (Oxfam Canada) and Ken Epps (Project Ploughshares)

Long a significant advocate of global arms control, Canada will be conspicuously absent next year from arguably the most important conventional weapons conference of this generation.

At a special ceremony taking place in New York today (Sept 25), diplomats will celebrate the fact that fifty countries have now ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a landmark agreement to reduce the serious harm caused by the irresponsible and illegal trade in conventional weapons, including allies like the UK, Mexico, Germany and France. Canada has yet to sign or ratify, even though Canada voted in favour of the treaty in April last year.

Now the landmark figure of 50 has been reached – with or without Canada – the Treaty will enter into force in 90 days time and become international law.

Before the end of 2015, states that are party to the Treaty will meet to establish rules and procedures for how it will operate. Unless the government signs and ratifies the ATT in the next three months, Canada will not be allowed to participate in writing the rules for its operation. While non-signatory states like Canada may be able to attend the conference as observers, they will have no say in the outcome.

It’s hard to fathom why the government of Canada has refused (failed?)  to act on a treaty aimed at preventing weapons from falling into the hands of human rights abusers, criminals and terrorists. The treaty would prevent arms transfers for use in genocide, war crimes, and other breaches of international humanitarian law, as well as in cases where there are major risks governments would use the weapons against their own people.

Canada’s current guidelines for the transfer of conventional weapons, including firearms, are already in line with the ATT.

The government says it won’t sign until it is convinced the ATT will not negatively impact legal Canadian firearms owners. Our careful and honest reading of the treaty text has found absolutely nothing there that would prevent Canadians from legitimately owning firearms or that would change the obligations of current owners. The ATT focuses on irresponsible and illegitimate transfers between states, and says nothing about regulation of individual firearms ownership.

We can only conclude that the misrepresentations of the treaty by Canadian gun lobby groups, which echo false assertions by the U.S. National Rifle Association, are deliberate obfuscations.

Given Canada’s long experience in international arms control and national export controls, its contribution to next year’s rule-making conference would be sorely missed.

There is yet time for Canada to rejoin its allies working to reduce and control the worldwide scourge of easy access to deadly weapons. To earn a seat at the crucial Conference of States Parties in 2015, Canada needs to sign the treaty before it enters into force at the end of this year.

Better still, Canada could fast-track ratification of the treaty this fall and join as a full founding participant. That would provide Canada with ground-floor opportunities to ensure the treaty will work as intended to make it that much harder for human rights abusers, criminals and terrorists to get their hands on deadly weapons.

This op-ed was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on Spetmber 25, 2014

Read More: UN: Landmark Arms Trade Treaty to become reality with 50th ratification

Take Action: Canada: Commit to the Arms Trade Treaty!