Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate.
It is important for Canadians to try to understand where we are on this bill. The bill began in the Senate, where significant concerns were raised by Senator Hubley and Senator Dallaire.
It went to committee, where a number of witnesses appeared and discussed the bill. It would ordinarily be a matter of simple ratification by the House, because we as a House have expressed our views on cluster bombs for a long period of time.
I can recall asking a minister several years ago, former minister David Emerson, about what role Canada was going to be playing in the implementation of the law on cluster munitions. Canada was not that active in putting the bill forward, but finally we agreed that we would join in the ratification and would participate in the ratification.
Essentially this law is supposed to put into effect an international treaty that has been signed by Canada as well as a number of other countries.
My colleagues who spoke earlier discussed how very imperfectly the bill reflects the treaty that we have signed. Cluster bombs are being banned in this treaty. The use of them is being banned in this treaty, which is something that Canada has agreed to do on its own, unilaterally, over a long period of time. That is not in dispute. No one is saying that the government is continuing to promote the use of cluster bombs or is somehow going against the treaty that it has signed.
We will be supporting the legislation going forward to committee, but what we are saying, as clearly as we can, is that the way in which the government has chosen to implement the treaty is contentious.
When I say that, it has to be understood that any number of countries have already had their internal debates and their parliamentary approvals, and if all the other countries, in their own legislation, had somehow adopted exactly the same interpretation of the treaty as the government, then our case would obviously be substantially weakened.
However, one is almost baffled by the approach that the Conservatives have taken. The person who negotiated the treaty, Mr. Turcotte, said that he was profoundly disappointed in the interpretation put on the treaty by the government.
My colleague from the New Democratic Party has already spoken to this issue.
As my colleague previously said, the prime minister of Australia was disappointed by the Government of Canada's approach. In fact, I would even say he was angry. Malcolm Fraser is a former Conservative prime minister of Australia. He is not a radical or a left-winger, and he is not opposed to using military force to safeguard his country's sovereignty; quite the contrary. It would be remarkable if Canada's Conservative government were the only government to adopt such a position and to interpret the treaty in that way. We naturally have questions on that subject.
Why has the government chosen to adopt such a negative interpretation of the treaty in clause 11 of the bill before us? Can it be said, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre has done, that one of the consequences of the legislation proposed by the Conservatives is that Canadian officers could order the use of these bombs and that Canadian soldiers might have to use them?
In my opinion, that stands in stark contradiction with the fact that Canada is opposed to the use of these bombs.
Consequently, we have a serious problem. Although standing in favour of multilateral disarmament, the Conservatives have managed to cause a problem with regard to the use of these bombs, which are so dangerous and have such a cruel impact on the civilian population.
We have all realized in the last few years that wars are no longer armed combats between soldiers lining up in a line, one against the other, but that wars increasingly and overwhelmingly involve the civilian populations of countries around the world.
Whether it is land mines or whether it is cluster bombs, the human experience has been that these are weapons have a horrible effect and a horrible impact on the civilian population. They are hard to target and they are hard to control. It is hard to say exactly who is going to be hit, who is going to be hurt, and who is going to be killed. It is the indiscriminate nature of these bombs that has led the world to say that we are going to stop the manufacture of these bombs and stop their use.
For our part, we are completely in favour of the legislation from the perspective of wanting to implement the treaty, but we insist that changes need to be made in committee in order to respect not only the spirit but the letter of the treaty we are signing. The changes that are required are in clause 11.
My colleagues Senators Hubley and Dallaire, two people of great integrity and great ability who have been watching and debating this legislation in the other place, did their best to convince the Conservative majority in the Senate that changes need to be made, but unfortunately those changes were not made.
Let us look at the number of countries that have explicitly rejected the interpretation being put on this treaty by the Conservative government.
At least 35 states have articulated support for the clear interpretation that the interoperability clause is not an escape clause. That is the clause that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence was just talking about.
New Zealand's legislation does not create any exceptions to the convention's prohibitions.
Norway has noted that:
The exemption for military cooperation does not authorise the States Parties to engage in activities prohibited by the Convention.
Ten other NATO members have issued similar interpretations: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Portugal and Slovenia.
It is hard for the government to argue that to be able to participate in NATO operations or in joint operations with other countries, we are somehow going to be able to use the interoperability clause as a pure and simple escape clause, but that is actually what the government has done.
One has to have a close look at this concept of interoperability, which is a principle with respect to how Canadian troops are working and exercising their responsibilities and engaging in combat in other countries. It is important at the same time to ask what the point is of signing a convention and agreeing to a treaty when we are not going to implement that treaty if it affects any of the operations we are undertaking anywhere in the world.
It almost seems like an expression on the part of the government of a kind of organized hypocrisy when out of one side of its mouth it says that it will be eliminating the use of cluster bombs and then says that no, not necessarily, if it means that it has to agree to the rejection of their use while we are actually in combat.
This is a challenge that Canadians need to understand and the government needs to come clean on.
I appreciate the fact that the government has introduced the legislation, that the government is referring it to committee and that the government says that its intent is to implement a treaty, which we are signing as a sovereign country. However, the government cannot do that and at the same time say that, yes, it will implement the treaty, but it will ensure that when it is in actual conditions of combat, it will not have any effect.
This is really a contradictory position that the government has taken. Once again, it has taken the position of Canadian exceptionalism to a degree that makes us almost a laughingstock to the rest of the world. The government effectively is saying that yes, it wants to pretend to be the good guys who are going along with signing and ratifying this treaty, but no, it does not disagree really with those of our partners, the United States and elsewhere, which in fact will not sign this treaty because the United States says that it does not want to use these, but there may be circumstances in which it has no choice but to use them and it will not bind the hands of our troops. Let us remember that the United States also refused to sign the land mines treaty.
It seems to me the government has to come clean. Is it or is it not the intention of the Government of Canada to allow its troops to be actively engaged in using cluster bombs while in combat, yes or no? Is it in fact the case that the Government of Canada intends its commanding officers to authorize the use of these cluster bombs while they are actually in the field of combat, even though Canada has signed a treaty saying they will not be used?
It seems to me there has to be some consistency. The Conservatives have in fact done exactly what other countries have warned us against doing and they have done exactly what other countries have refused to do, which is to use this notion of interoperability as an actual escape from the responsibilities we have to implement the legislation.
We need to go back into committee. We need to call Mr. Turcotte. We need to call the people who have interpreted this legislation. We need to call the people who have been looking hard at it. We need to call people from other countries who have an understanding as to how they have interpreted this. We need to have a real discussion in committee as to why the government would have taken such an approach to this legislation.
Canada should not be escaping its responsibilities by choosing to implement a treaty in this way. It makes a mockery of our commitment. It makes a mockery of our understanding of what it means to actually put into effect and to put into operation a treaty obligation that we signed. It will provide for total confusion with respect to what Canada and Canadians troops have actually agreed to do.
That is why, while we support the bill going to committee, we have great difficulty with the way in which the government has chosen to interpret the treaty in clause 11 of the bill.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act