Norway and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are raising concerns about pending legislation from the Harper government that would make Canada a full member of a treaty to ban deadly cluster bombs.
Their questions represent a significant addition to a growing list of international organizations and foreign governments that say a loophole in Canada’s bill would undermine the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Canada signed the convention in 2008, but the legislation to ratify it was only introduced last year and is still before Parliament. Canada led the international effort beginning in 1996 to spearhead the treaty known as the Ottawa Convention that banned landmines.
Cluster bombs are the grim cousin of landmines in the arsenal of anti-personnel weapons. A single large bomb scatters hundreds of smaller, baseball-sized bomblets over a wide area. They pose a massive hazard to thousands of innocent civilians, especially children, who have been maimed or killed in some two dozen post-war countries. An estimated 10 to 40 per cent of the brightly coloured submunitions fail to explode immediately, lying dormant but deadly, in some cases, for decades.
Canada’s languid ratification of the CCM follows its world-leading performance on banning landmines. That raised questions about the country’s commitment to the process at a recent international meeting in Geneva on the cluster bomb convention.
But the sharpest criticism has been reserved for a loophole in the bill that allows Canadian Forces personnel to be involved in the use of cluster bombs through joint operations with countries that haven’t agreed to the ban — primarily the United States, which also stayed out of the landmines treaty.
Lou Maresca, a senior ICRC lawyer, told The Canadian Press that its biggest concern centres on a provision that would allow the Forces to transport or stockpile the banned bombs in joint operations.
“The biggest concerns we have about the legislation are linked to the provisions on interoperability,” Maresca said during an interview at the ICRC’s headquarters overlooking Lake Geneva.
“For us, that raises serious questions about the legislation and how that goes in parallel with the object and purpose of the convention, which is to eliminate any use of cluster munitions.”
Norway, the country leading the cluster bomb ban and the first to sign and ratify the new convention in Oslo in 2008, also raised questions about Canada’s pending legislation.
“We would normally not comment on the internal processes in other countries,” Norwegian Ambassador Steffan Kongstad, whose country holds the presidency of the CCM process, said in an interview.
“But I can say that we would not present such a law in the Norwegian parliament. It seems somewhat inconsistent with the purpose of the convention.”
Canada signed the convention in 2008, but the legislation to ratify it was only introduced last year and is still before the Commons after passing through the Senate last fall. It does not appear that the ratification will be completed before Parliament rises for the summer in the days ahead.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declined to be interviewed. But both have vigorously defended the bill publicly.
MacKay did so last week, when the bill finally wound its way through the House of Commons for second reading.
Baird appeared before a Senate committee last fall and defended the need for Canada to be able to co-operate militarily with the United States. Baird said Canada would never use the banned weapons, but has to preserve its ability to co-operate with its key military ally.
Along with the U.S., major military powers such as China, Russia and Israel have taken a pass on the CCM. They are among the 80-plus states that are not signatories to the convention, which now boasts 112 members, 83 of which have ratified.
Canada has a stockpile of weapons that is has never used and is in the process of destroying them. Baird said the Canadian Forces would issue a directive that would forbid the use of cluster munitions.
In his testimony, Baird said he did not want to see senior Canadian military officers barred from postings to high-profile U.S. positions because of the convention.
Two former chiefs of defence staff — retired generals Rick Hillier and Walt Natynczyk — were each named deputy commander of the U.S. Army’s III Corps in Fort Hood, Tex., where the generals helped lead a base of 60,000 personnel — roughly the size of the entire Canadian Forces. Baird suggested those kinds of prestige postings would be jeopardized by a more toughly worded CCM bill.
“I simply think it would be rather presumptuous of Canada to say, ‘We are sending one person to work with these other 60,000 people, and here is a long list of things that we want to impose on you,“’ Baird testified.