Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here tonight to talk about such an important piece of legislation as Bill S-10. It is truly a piece of legislation that I have been waiting for since pre-2008.
I am a little disturbed to hear the type of dialogue that has been going on in the House. This is not only a good piece of legislation, but is an important piece of legislation for us to ratify and to move forward on. We want to maintain Canada's standing in the world and our history of being a strong country. Whether it is land mines and the Ottawa treaty or cluster munitions, it is important to note that we have been part of this cluster munitions discussion since the beginning of the Oslo process.
As the member of Parliament for Westlock—St. Paul, it sometimes can be seen as a bit of yin and yang when it comes to the issue of supporting the eradication of cluster munitions to many people who are not educated on the issue. I represent two of the largest tactical military bases in our country, 4 Wing Cold Lake, the tactical fighter squadron, and Edmonton Garrison.
However, when we talk to the men and women of the Canadian Forces, they agree with this legislation because they believe that we need to give them the best arms possible that target the enemy and not civilians. As members on both sides of the aisle have said today throughout the rigorous debate that we have had, cluster munitions, unfortunately, target civilians.
The use of cluster munitions has had a profound impact on many countries because it is an intermittent use. We cannot ask the offending country or the offending state or the offending terrorist organization to give us a map of where it used them because they are dispersed throughout an area where, ultimately, young children and farmers end up becoming the victims months, if not years, afterwards.
As I said before, I have to thank my wife for bringing this very important issue to my attention back in 2008 when it was happening in Lebanon, as it has happened in Serbia, as it has happened Vietnam, as it has happened in Nicaragua. When we have had the opportunity to talk to victims of cluster munitions, young children who picked up that little pink ball thinking it was a toy and it blew up and took off an arm or a leg, it is something that we cannot help but feel passionate about. It is something that we cannot help but say, that it is wrong and we need to fight to ensure that it changes.
We go back and think about the time, 2008-2009, when Mr. Turcotte was negotiating on our behalf, as one of the delegation. We were looking, as Canadians, at the ups and downs. We did not know if there would even be enough countries to bother ratifying this, to come to the process at which we are today. It seemed like a bit of a dream to get to the point where we, as a country, were ratifying, where we had over 100 countries on side, and where we could honestly look to putting pressure on those countries, having the social licence to put pressure on those countries that had not ratified.
I look at this legislation. Is it perfect? Is it everything that we could have dreamed about in 2008? No.
However, as we went through the steps I will talk about today, it is a very good piece of legislation. It would have an impact that would make a significant difference, and would reduce the amount of cluster munitions used in the world today. I think that is a very important step. I think that anybody who opposes that has not done their due diligence in looking at this and saying, we cannot have it all, but we can sure start with this piece of legislation, with the Oslo treaty. Being able to move forward from here is a great starting point, not only for Canadians, but in particular for those third world countries that have been affected by the harmful use of cluster munitions.
As members before me have already stated, Canada participated actively in the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and we were one of the first countries to sign on to it, in 2008.
As we prepare to return home to our constituencies this summer, it is extremely important that we move this legislation forward as quickly as possible. Bill S-10 is a necessary step that brings us closer to ratification.
Let me emphasize this fact. When I first started lobbying the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we needed to make sure that we ratified this, that Canada continue its international reputation as a leader in the area of land mines and cluster munitions. I was proud of the support that I received from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but at the end of the day our country has gone through numerous minority governments. We have now finally got into a strong, stable Conservative majority government that has allowed us to take on some of these important issues.
I am happy to sit longer into June so that we can make sure that this not only gets voted on in the House of Commons but gets royal assent. It is important that we maintain our reputation around the world. As Canadians, we are expected to be leaders. Let nobody in this House say otherwise. We have been leaders throughout this entire process. We were one of the first countries at the table. We were one of the first countries to push our NATO allies, as the parliamentary secretary of defence talked about earlier. We have been one of the leaders. It is because of the credibility and the bloodshed of our men and women of the Canadian Forces that we have that credibility with the Americans, with the British, with the Australians, with all of our allies to say we have been there and we want to move the ball forward when it comes to the elimination and ratification of cluster munitions.
Explosive remnants of war, including those caused by cluster munitions, are a grave humanitarian concern. Cluster munitions are deployed from the air or ground with some types able to release dozens or even hundreds of smaller submunitions quickly, covering a large area.
Cluster munitions pose a significant threat to civilians, not only during attacks but particularly afterwards when they fail to detonate as intended. Unexploded bomblets can kill and maim civilians long after conflicts have ended, especially in densely populated areas. Tragically, many cluster munitions casualties are innocent and unknowing children. Unexploded bomblets can also hinder access to land and essential infrastructure, curbing the development potential of entire communities.
As I have been advocating for this legislation for many years, I have had the opportunity to talk to children and farmers who have been in their groves or in their fields and picked up what they thought was a toy only to find that it was a harmful explosive device that, unknown to them, would end up causing them severe damage.
We should be proud of the work that we have done in Canada. We should be proud of the fact that we are consistently in the top ten, if not the top five, when it comes to donating money to countries regarding land mines or cluster munitions. We should be proud of these accomplishments that we have consistently made from 2005, 2006 and onwards.
I find it quite offensive to hear members of the opposition stand up and say that we should not ratify this because it is not perfect and is not exactly what somebody has told us we need to do. Quite frankly, as I listen to them, I realize that most of them have not taken the time that their former leader Alexa McDonough did to understand the importance of ratifying this treaty. I looked at the member from Winnipeg as he talked about this. He sat in the same caucus as Ms. McDonough. Did he not understand from her and her passion the importance that we as a country move forward quickly on this?
Our government's commitment to the protection of civilians against the indiscriminate effects of explosive remnants of war is well established, with Canada traditionally in the top ten donors and often in the top five.
Since 2006, we have contributed more than $200 million to over 250 projects with respect to this global effort. For example, our efforts have provided over $1.5 million for the Organization of American States to support mine clearing in Nicaragua, which, with the support of other donors, helped to clear 179,000 landmines planted during the internal conflict in Nicaragua in the 1980s. As a result, in 2010, Nicaragua declared itself mine-free. Its mine-free status made Central America the first post-conflict region of the world to become mine-free.
Building on this momentum, we are proud to be part of the international effort to rid the world of cluster munitions. Recognizing the harm that cluster munitions cause civilians, inspired by the Ottawa convention, the international community began in 2007 to negotiate a treaty that would ban cluster munitions. The resulting Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions.
In the government's view, the treaty we signed and are now working to ratify strikes the right balance between humanitarian considerations and the continued ability of states parties to protect their national security and defence interests. Indeed, the convention reflects Canada's efforts during negotiations to ensure the right balance between the commitment to eliminate the use of cluster munitions based on humanitarian concerns and the need to protect our legitimate and important security considerations. Canada has never used cluster munitions. We would have agreed to a complete ban on them, but it was clear from the outset that this was simply not a realistic option.
Given the positions of other countries, it would not have been possible for Canada to ratify an immediate and complete ban since other countries we co-operate with militarily were not prepared to do the same. Would we have preferred that all countries sign on to the convention? Would we have preferred that all countries had the principled stance and the ability that Canada has had? Yes, of course, but unfortunately some of our closest allies did not sign on. In that context, the best way to eventually end the use of munitions is to allow countries like Canada to renounce their use and join the treaty while maintaining the ability to co-operate with allies that choose not to join.
Throughout the preparatory phases and during negotiations on the convention known as the Oslo process, a number of states insisted that the new treaty needed to contain provisions permitting the continued ability to engage effectively in military co-operation in operations with countries that did not sign the convention. We negotiated for the eventual elimination of these weapons, but also recognized that not all states would be in a position to immediately join that convention. In a context where multilateral, military co-operation operations are crucial to international security, again this was not exclusively a Canadian position but one shared by other countries, particularly our allies.
Article 21 of the convention is the resulting compromise, which recognizes that allowing states parties to conduct military co-operation in operations with states not party was the best way to ensure as many countries as possible join the convention. Without article 21, fewer states that possess cluster munitions would have agreed to join us and commit to eliminating their stockpiles and use of weapons.
There has been a lot of talk about the people who negotiated this treaty today, but I can say that, sitting in the room with those people in briefings and asking them questions, they felt as I did, that article 21 was essential to ensuring that this treaty was a success. It is easy to have hindsight, to look back and see that something is not perfect, but at that point in time this was the only path that was seen forward, not just for Canada but for the entire process. While appearing before the foreign affairs committee in the other place, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said:
...we have to deal with the reality of the world that we live in. With this, if we had zero tolerance, we would probably get zero results. I think what we have is the capacity that Canada will not use these weapons, will not acquire them and Canada will eliminate its stockpile. That is a good accomplishment; 110 other countries joining us in doing that is more accomplishment. Hopefully, each and every year we can get one or two or more countries, and we can see a time when it will not be necessary for any country to want to possess let alone use these kinds of weapons.
The compromise established by article 21 is found in clause 11 of the prohibiting cluster munitions act. Since the convention calls for the use of penal law, it is necessary to ensure that members of the Canadian Forces and associated civilians who participate in military co-operation operations as permitted by the convention will not be subject to criminal liability for otherwise lawful activities in the service of our country. This protection would be achieved through exemptions from prohibitions. Our government has been clear that we will not jeopardize the ability of our men and women in uniform to do their jobs or what we ask of them in the interests of our country.
Let me be clear. The exclusions in clause 11 do not permit or authorize any activity; they simply exclude these activities from new criminal offences that Bill S-10 would create. If these exclusions were not included in the act, there would be potential criminal liability for a wide range of frequent and lawful military co-operation activities with our closest allies, in particular, the United States. It does not intend to join the convention in the near future, and from my experience I do not expect it to. Obviously, it would not be fair to expose Canadian Armed Forces members to liability for doing their duty in the service of our country when participating in co-operation on operations with states that are not party to this convention.
To bring this to a real-world example of only a few years ago, if Canadian Forces personnel had been in a firefight in Afghanistan, they would have had to call air support from the United States of America, their military allies, who then could use cluster munitions. It is not fair to expose Canadian ground forces to being subject to penal law because their allies use this. It is very important that we not only look at it in context of treaties, but how it would affect men and women on the ground in the Canadian Forces who are risking their lives every day that they go beyond the wire.
It is important to note that the exclusions in clause 11 are carefully limited to activities that are committed by the convention itself and are necessary for effective military co-operation and operations. They only apply to persons who are engaged in activities related to military co-operation operations involving the Government of Canada. They also do not detract in any way from other applicable legal obligations on the part of members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including those established by existing international humanitarian law. The bill would create specific offences related to cluster munitions, and exceptions to those offences. However, nothing in the bill affects any other existing offence. If something is a crime today, it will still be a crime if and when Bill S-10 is enacted.
Members of the Canadian Forces will be fully subject to the prohibitions on the use of cluster munitions, in the same way as any other Canadian, unless they are engaged in a permitted form of military co-operation with a state that is not party to this convention. When members of the Canadian Forces are engaged in this type of co-operation, they are still prohibited from using cluster munitions if they are in exclusive control over the choice of the type of munitions they want to use. It is only in circumstances where that choice is partly or entirely under the control of the other country that the offences will not apply to Canadian Forces personnel.
I have been involved in this process, from a Canadian perspective and from a parliamentarian perspective, right from the beginning. As someone who has consistently lobbied and worked hard to make sure that not only the Canadian public understands the importance of this process, but the Government of Canada understands, I am very happy to see the steps that have been taken by the government to get this legislation quickly passed through the House of Commons. We will be able to stand up and say that once again Canada has taken the lead. Once again, Canada has asserted its moral authority to ensure we are a country that stands up, not only for countries, but for people who are less fortunate and need our support, our strength and our convictions. We can ensure that we, as a country, continue to be a leader when it comes to land mines and cluster munitions.