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Bill C-47 passes Parliament: Canada one step closer to joining Arms Trade Treaty, but further reforms still needed

    December 14, 2018

    Reacting to news that Bill C-47 has been passed by Parliament and received Royal Assent, Amnesty International today welcomed this important step towards accession to the UN Arms Trade Treaty, but reminded the government that significant reforms to Canada’s arms control regime are still urgently needed in order to fully comply with the object and purpose of the treaty.

    Bill C-47 enacts important changes to Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act consistent with provisions in the Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibit the transfer of arms to another country when they would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. 

    Importantly, the reforms to Canada’s arms control system would require the government to refuse to issue export permits in cases where there is a substantial risk that transfer of the arms in question “could be used to commit or facilitate … a serious violation of international humanitarian law, a serious violation of international human rights law … or serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.” Similarly, export permits would be refused if there is a substantial risk the transfer would lead to acts that violate Canada’s obligations under treaties dealing with terrorism and transnational organized crime.

    “Enshrining a mandatory provision to refuse export permits in cases of substantial risk that an arms deal will lead to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and serious instances of gender-based violence is an important step forward in bringing real human rights rules to Canada’s arms trade,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “It is a significant improvement to the current system, which has long left too much uncertainty and discretion to grant permits, even when there are grave human rights concerns.”

    Amnesty International joined with Project Ploughshares, Oxfam-Québec, Oxfam Canada, the Rideau Institute and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East in pressing for Bill C-47 to be strengthened to address other longstanding gaps in Canada’s arms control processes, notably the fact that there are no binding human rights controls related to arms sales from Canada to the United States and that key departments and agencies, notably the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), are not included. The organizations are disappointed that those crucial amendments were not taken up as the Bill passed through Parliament. 

    While detailed information is not available due to a lack of public reporting, more than one-half of Canadian arms sales are to the United States, largely comprised of parts and components. The US government has made it clear that it has no plans to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, and Amnesty International and other organizations have documented numerous instances of US-made weaponry being sold and transferred to countries which then use the arms to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, including recent concerns about the use of US weapons by Saudi forces in Yemen.

    The role of the CCC has been of serious concern in recent Canadian arms deals including contracts to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia and military helicopters to the Philippines (the latter contract having been abandoned by the Philippine government after serious concerns became public in Canada). It has become clear that the CCC negotiates and concludes contracts without strict consideration of human rights concerns, and does so before proposed deals have been assessed for export permit eligibility.

    “While C-47 provides important advances in Canada’s approach to arms control, and joining the Arms Trade Treaty is long overdue and will be a welcome step, major gaps remain,” said Alex Neve.  “It is vital that loopholes with respect to reporting and permitting of Canadian arms sales to the United States be closed, through upcoming regulations and further legislative reform. Similarly, there must be assurances that Bill C-47 will be applied consistently to any and all Canadian departments and agencies, including the Canadian Commercial Corporation.”

    Over the coming months, there will be government-led consultations with industry, civil society and the public as more detailed regulations regarding many of the provisions in Bill C-47 are developed.  Once the regulations are adopted, Bill C-47 will enter into force and Canada will be in a position to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. A total of 99 other countries have already become parties to the Treaty.

    For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English), 613-744-7667, ext. 236; lscholey@amnesty.ca