Canada’s Cluster Bomb Law

M77_Cluster_Munition_With_HandIs it ‘timid, inadequate and regressive’?

This winter Canada’s parliamentarians will vote on Bill S-10. The bill is Canada’s enabling legislation to implement the international treaty that would ban the manufacture, stockpiling, transfer or use of cluster…

munitions.  Ottawa signed the Cluster Munitions Convention in Oslo in 2008 but a law is required to put it into effect.

People close to the cluster bomb ban process have been outspoken in their criticism of Bill S-10. One of them is Earl Turcotte, the thirty-year civil servant who played a key lead role on the Canadian team that helped negotiate the treaty.

Said Mr. Turcotte soon after he resigned in protest,

“It falls way below even the minimum threshold of legality under international humanitarian law and is an insult to colleagues in other countries who, seemingly unlike Canada, have negotiated in good faith.”

The Conservative government’s bill is controversial because it would allow its military forces to assist others in deploying the deadly bomblets that kill and maim large numbers of civilians, particularly the small children who mistake unexploded munitions for toys.

The U.S., China and  Russia maintain massive stockpiles of the weapons. And Canada’s military has become even more “inter-operable” with that of the U.S. since the combat experience in Afghanistan.

Turcotte explained that there has been a shift in the way that Ottawa treats such matters since the 1990s. That’s when Canada was a key backer of an international treaty banning landmines.

“We’re working very closely with our allies and the most important ally is telling us they need this weapon,” he said, adding that the climb down was the result of an inter-departmental conflict between Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defence. DND prevailed.

Soon after resigning, Turcotte told the Toronto Star that he had been asked to meet with American negotiators at the United Nations in New York in late 2011 to discuss the cluster bomb controversy.

“The gist of the meeting was, they … in very clear terms asked me to stop being critical of the text that was currently on the table in the negotiations — instead of attacking it and characterizing it as being weak and ineffective, to characterize it as meaningful and significant and essentially to support (it),” he remembered.

“I said, in no uncertain terms, that I myself would do no such thing.”

The result, critics argue, will be Canadian complicity in the use of weapons that we say need to be banned.

While Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a Senate committee studying Bill S-10 that cluster weapons are “terrible and horrible weapons that should be destroyed,” the Conservative majority on the committee approved the law without the changes that had been urged by NGO peace activists who had testified.

Conservative Senator Pam Wallin’s support of the weak enabling legislation included an uncanny echo of the U.S. rationale for non-participation in the International Criminal Court — that it did not want its soldiers operating overseas to be subject to criminal prosecution in an international court:  “…I also do not want to be in a circumstance where I might inadvertently put Canadian lives in danger or, furthermore, risk prosecution when they come home for being involved in actions to which they were not directly a party to, or which they could not realistically stop.”

“Canada used to be in the forefront internationally in leading the world in good directions,” said former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. “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.”

~ Jamie Swift, January 2013