Libby speaks on cluster munitions treaty


House of Commons


June 11, 2013

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but begin by drawing attention to the fact that, yet again, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons rose in the House a few minutes ago and sought unanimous consent to rush through another government bill. Of course, he failed to get unanimous consent, so he served notice that the government intends to bring in time allocation. I would point out that it will be the 46th time that it has happened with the Conservative government, which is a record among all governments. I want to bring this up because it is 11 o’clock at night, we are sitting until midnight and we are debating legislation that has been sitting around for years. This particular bill that we are debating tonight, Bill S-10, is one such example. It is really quite extraordinary that we have a government that is so contemptuous of democratic practice.

We are here as parliamentarians to uphold democratic practice for our constituents and for all Canadians. That is what we do in this place, we debate legislation. I consider it an affront to all Members of Parliament, but particularly the opposition, because our job is to analyze legislation, scrutinize it and hold the government to account. That is the basis of our parliamentary democracy. To see the government time and time again without purpose and rational reason, but for political reasons, rush through legislation and cut off legitimate debate in the House is deeply disturbing.

I just wanted to begin my remarks with that, because it has become so routine that we now come back to the House during the day, interrupting committees and other business, to vote on these time allocations. Even we, ourselves, forget just how sickening it is in terms of what this process is about and how bad it has become. The government now does not even blink an eye. It has just become its modus operandi, its MO, in terms of how it does its business. That is a pretty sad day for Canadian democracy.

The bill before us tonight that is being debated, Bill S-10, deals with the ratification of the treaty on cluster munitions. It is surely a very important bill, as the convention is very important too.

Many of my colleagues tonight have given wonderful descriptions and oversight of the importance of this issue and the fact that these cluster munitions are now stockpiled to the amount of something like four billion. That is incredible when we think of the harm that is being done to civilian populations. We do know that 98% of all recorded cluster munitions casualties have been civilians. They are innocent people.

We know that these cluster munitions, or bomblets as they are sometimes called because they are very small, can do tremendous harm, if not killing people, then maiming them for life. We have seen this in many countries. I think there are about 37 countries that have been engaged in actions where cluster munitions have been in effect.

Clearly, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. Canada has historically had a very good record. The Ottawa agreement on banning land mines began in Ottawa. The global momentum came from this country. We have a very honourable record on some of these issues. Canadians have been very proud over the decades to be advocates for nuclear disarmament and for disarmament generally. Certainly, when we look at these inhuman cluster munitions and the damage that they do, we can all recognize that a convention that would ban their operation is critically important to real human security.

We live in such a militarized world. We live in a world where the resolution of conflict often becomes a military resolution. We have seen a global situation where diplomacy often takes a back seat. One thing that really worries us is that we now see a Conservative government in this country that seems to have a mindset that sees military operation as a higher priority. We have seen diplomatic actions and the role that Canada has played historically as something that becomes more minimal in its approach. That is very disturbing.

That is why, when Canada signed this convention in 2008, it was seen as a progressive thing, as a good step, a good step forward.

We know that 111 countries have now signed the convention and 68 have ratified the convention. Once the convention has been signed, it is still up to individual countries to then bring in their own legislation to ratify, which is what we are debating tonight.

Clearly, we would all like to see those remaining countries sign the convention. However, what we are debating here tonight is what Canada’s position is, what Canada has done, and what the government is proposing.

The first thing I would do is echo the comments of my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, who asked the obvious question as to why this legislation has been sitting around for so incredibly long. It was signed in 2008. It did not get tabled in the House of Commons until December 2012. Then it went to the Senate and hung around there some more, yet here we are, jamming it through at the last minute, at 11 o’clock at night with, really, no regular debate.

I think, number one, it becomes very suspect as to what the government’s agenda is and the fact that it is not willing to allow this legislation to stand the rigorous test that all legislation must live up to. That is our role, but it is also the government’s role.

Therefore, number one, I want to put in the debate that we are very concerned about the timing of this bill and how the government deliberately seemed to allow this bill to lapse for so long and now is now rushing it through when, presumably, not many people are paying attention so late at night. We know that many Canadians are concerned about this issue.

One of my colleagues tonight spoke eloquently about the thousands of young people who have signed petitions in support of the convention and expressed their concern about these cluster munitions. We know that people are very concerned about this issue. They want to see our government do the best it can do—not the minimal, not the lowest common denominator, but the best effort that we can do.

When we examine this legislation and look at what other countries are doing and look at what experts are saying, we come to the conclusion that this bill, Bill S-10, is flawed. It would not live up to the convention. In fact, it would undermine the convention.

We hear what others who have been very involved in this issue have said. For example, the former DFAIT negotiator, Mr. Earl Turcotte, stated, “the proposed Canadian legislation is the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the convention, to date.” That is a very a strong statement. That is coming from the former negotiator for Canada on the convention. Surely the government would listen to this kind of expert advice, but apparently it is being ignored.

Then the former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, stated, “It is a pity the current Canadian government, in relation to cluster munitions, does not provide any real lead to the world. Its approach is timid, inadequate and regressive.” Again, these are very strong and quite astounding words to hear from an ally, a former prime minister of Australia, about this Canadian legislation.

Many of my colleagues tonight have painstakingly gone through the legislation and shown point by point, but particularly in section 11, how this legislation would not meet the standard that needs to be met in order to live up to the substance and the principle of the convention before us.

I would quote one other expert source, and that is Mines Action Canada. It did a comparison between Australian and the U.K. and then looked at current best practices of various aspects of the bill, including New Zealand and Belgium.

It too comes to some analysis that I think should set off the alarm bells for us in terms of what Bill S-10 is all about. It states, “Canada’s legislation allows Canadians to be more proactive in their involvement with the use of cluster munitions, which we feel runs counter to the prohibition on assistance. Section 11 seems to go further than any other legislation worldwide in permitting Canadians themselves to use cluster munitions in very specific cases. This is an unacceptable deviation from the spirit and letter of the convention and from Canada’s commitment to lessening the humanitarian impact of conflict.”

It further states, “Section 11, paragraph 2, regarding Canadian transport of cluster munitions, has no equivalent in the draft Australian legislation or in the U.K. legislation, again showing how far Canada’s legislation has strayed from the spirit of the convention on cluster munitions”.

These are not ambiguous words that the representatives of Mines Action Canada are using. It is not fuzzy. They are stating quite clearly that from their expert analysis the bill is leaving Canada in a very ambiguous position. It would leave our Canadian Forces in a very ambiguous and uncertain position. I do not think that is acceptable.

I am glad that my colleague asked a question just now as to whether the government is willing to look at amendments when this bill goes to committee. It presumably will, because it is under time allocation. The member responded that if we could all agree, there could be an amendment.

However, again we get back to this process issue of a travesty when legislation goes before a committee. The government is hell-bent on getting something through and is not willing to consider amendments that are eminently reasonable and rational and actually seek to improve the legislation. There are hundreds of examples of this happening, although with the bill before us we feel particularly bad because it is based on an international convention, and there is a great history of how these conventions can help with global security.

Surely it is incumbent upon Canadians, through our government, to ensure the legislation we have is the very best it can be, not the worst. It is very disconcerting that according to a number of these experts, Canada is doing the least it can do. Worse than that, it would produce conflict between the convention and the bill, this so-called “ratification”. It is not really a ratification at all, but something that is contrary to the bill.

We will debate Bill S-10 as long as we possibly can. The bill will go to committee, and we will do everything we can at the committee. With due diligence and in good faith, we will try to improve it, and it will come back under time allocation, I have no doubt.

We have to alert Canadians as to the appalling agenda that the Conservative government has, not only in terms of what it does but also in terms of how it does it. It flies in the face of democratic practice.

I hope we will get another opportunity to debate this bill.