Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît.
Mr. Speaker, speaking in support of the motion on the floor, I will start off by saying once again, as my colleagues have been echoing all morning in this House, that for too long Canadians have had too little information about our arms exports to countries with questionable human rights records. This has to change.
Liberals have not been fully transparent with Canadians about our arms exports, but we have a right to know who Canada is doing business with and under what conditions.
There are increasing allegations that Canadian weapons are being used to commit human rights violations in countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan.
It is clear that Canada's arms export policy is not working, and it is really time to have a national conversation about arms exports, with a multi-party commons committee that would collaborate across the floor.
Human rights are not optional. If the government wants to show Canada that it is a leader in human rights, then it needs to ensure that it, and we, are walking the talk.
I was very moved at a ceremony in my community, in Nanaimo, right on the waterfront, on August 6, which is the anniversary of Hiroshima bombing. Members of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a very long-standing activist organization within our community, was talking about the UN vote that was coming up on nuclear disarmament. They shared my optimism that, given the campaign commitments around peace and security and restoring Canada's international reputation on the world stage, our Prime Minister was going to direct that Canada vote in favour of negotiations to end the nuclear weapons trade.
However, sadly, last month, Canada voted against negotiations for a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. It was shameful. It was a shock to everybody. These nuclear negotiations had been called for by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; 68 countries ended up voting in favour of the motion, so Canada was on the outside of that international consensus; and the vote was called “the most significant contribution to nuclear disarmament in two decades” by one of the UN member countries.
The Liberal government's vote last month also flew in the face of a 2010 resolution, in this House, encouraging the Canadian government to join negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention. The motion was adopted unanimously in this House and in the Senate, with support from all parties, including the Liberals. However, it was a real sad point that they did not follow through and carry on with that commitment that would have made us proud on the international stage. We want to move forward in a more positive way. There is more United Nations consensus with which our country can join.
A 2009 resolution of the Security Council stressed the particular impact that armed conflict has on women, children, refugees, and internally displaced persons, as well as on other civilians who may have specific vulnerabilities, including persons with disabilities and older persons, and it stressed the protection and assistance needs of all affected civilian populations.
As the New Democrat spokesperson for the status of women, I want to bring a particular gender lens to the debate.
The United Nations and international aid agencies say women are among the most heavily impacted victims of war. Tens of thousands suffer from sexual violence, rape, and lack of access to life-saving health care.
Amnesty International says women and girls are uniquely and disproportionately affected by armed conflict; women bear the brunt of war and are the vast majority of casualties resulting from war; rape and sexual violence target women and girls and are routinely used, not only to terrorize women but as a strategic tool of war and an instrument of genocide; systematic rape is often used as a weapon of war in ethnic cleansing; and, in addition to rape, girls and women are often subject to forced prostitution and trafficking during times of war, sometimes with the complicity of governments and military authorities.
In all countries, everywhere in the world, sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can. This is the moral challenge to our country and the government. Six hundred and three million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime. Are we exporting weapons there?
In many countries there is repression, the silencing of abuse, and the mistreatment and imprisonment of women, human rights defenders, and activists. Are we exporting to those countries?
In some countries women are considered perpetual legal minors, permanently under the guardianship of male relatives. Are we exporting there?
In some countries it is actually legal for a man to rape his wife. Are we exporting arms to those countries?
We hear again and again that Canadians want to have more scrutiny over the destination of Canadian weapons, and they want to know that we are not exacerbating these human rights abuses in countries abroad.
At the NDP convention in April, Stephen Lewis gave a very powerful speech, and I quote:
We're not supposed to be sending armaments to countries that have a 'persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.' Saudi Arabia is the embodiment of the meaning of the word 'violations.' And the government of Canada refuses to release its so-called assessment of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. So much for the newly minted policy of transparency.
He went on to say that it was a huge pleasure to have a prime minister who unselfconsciously calls himself a feminist, yet is selling weapons to a regime "steeped in misogyny".
Is it not time that we looked more closely at the regimes we export weapons to? Polls show that most Canadians disapprove of arms deals to human rights abusers. Many Canadians would be shocked to know that Canadian weapons exports have nearly doubled over the last 10 years. While Canada used to export arms mostly to NATO countries, under the Conservative government our arms exports shifted to include many countries with very troubling human rights records. Canada is now the second-largest arms dealer in the Middle East, after the U.S. Saudi Arabia is now the world's second-largest buyer of Canadian-made military equipment, after the United States.
Our arms export rules were supposed prohibit the sale of military hardware to countries whose governments have a persistent record of seriously violating the human rights of their citizens. However, it is clear that our arms export controls are not working. While the government argues, as the Conservative government did before it, that Canada has strong arms export regulations, in recent months Canadians have grown increasingly concerned about Canadian arms exports falling into the wrong hands.
Canada does not control or track the use of its arms exports overseas. Worse, it was revealed in August that the Government of Canada has weakened its arms export policy to make it easier to export military hardware to states that abuse human rights.
We have a few pieces of good news, despite all of this tough stuff. I am very glad that the government has agreed to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. We look forward to seeing the details of that. It is a move in the right direction.
We do have a pre-election commitment from the Prime Minister. He said to the press that Canada must stop arms sales to regimes that flout democracy, such as Saudi Arabia. That was reported in the London Free Press on August 10, 2015.
We have a government that says that it is committed to equal rights for women and that it is deeply committed to transparency.
I urge the government, in the spirit of co-operation, to agree to a House committee that would provide parliamentary oversight of arms exports. This oversight is badly needed. We would have multi-party co-operation investigating current and future arms exports, and we can follow the example of other countries that have taken this step.
Let us move forward. Let us do the right thing collectively. Let us make Canada proud on the world stage again.