Counter-Proliferation and Export Controls

Domestic Counter-Proliferation Efforts
Multilateral Counter-Proliferation Initiatives
UN Security Council Resolution 1540
Proliferation Security Initiative
Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism
Nuclear Security Summit
Export Control Regimes
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
Zangger Committee (ZC)
Australia Group (AG)
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)
Wassenaar Arrangement


Domestic Counter-Proliferation Efforts

The global proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and their delivery systems poses a significant threat to Canadian and global security. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring the safety and security of Canada and Canadians. Successfully countering the proliferation of CBRN weapons is integral to meeting this commitment and DFATD, along with partner federal departments and agencies, works to prevent states and non-state actors from acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction that could be used to threaten or attack Canada, Canadians, and Canadian interest.

Canada’s domestic counter-proliferation efforts are focused on four areas:

  • Prevent states, non-state actors, and individuals from engaging in proliferation related activities;
  • Detect proliferation-related threats and activities, domestically and internationally;
  • Deny ability to acquire or transfer proliferation-related goods, information and funds; and
  • Respond rapidly and effectively to ongoing proliferation-related activity

As part of Canada’s counter-proliferation regime, DFATD chairs the interdepartmental Counter-Proliferation Operation Committee (CPOC). Through this DFATD-chaired committee, Canadian counter-proliferation stakeholders are able to address proliferation threats within Canada. The CPOC, along with the Public Safety-led Counter-Proliferation Policy Committee and Counter-Proliferation Intelligence Committee form the Government of Canada’s overall counter-proliferation framework, which aims to Prevent, Detect, Deny and Respond to proliferation threats to Canada, Canadians and Canadian interests.

There are number of different divisions in DFATD on counter-proliferation issues. Though the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division leads on domestic counter proliferation issues, DFATD’s legal branch and relevant geographic divisions are involved in sanctions and implementation of the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) and on sanctions in general. DFATD’s legal branch also provides legal guidance on issues such as interdiction. DFATD’s Global Partnership Division is involved in programming under the 28-partner Global Partnership (GP) and they lead on the Nuclear Security Summit process, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT).

Multilateral Counter-Proliferation Initiatives

The global weapons of mass destruction (WMD) counter-proliferation regime is not characterized by a single overarching framework but instead by various complementary initiatives. These include UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004), , Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), process, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), which aim to concretely enhance national and international counter-proliferation capabilities.

Many traditional WMD non-proliferation and disarmament organizations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Implementation Support Unit of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, also support WMD counter-proliferation objectives as part of their broader verification and compliance mandates.

Canada’s active participation in these initiatives provides an opportunity to work with partners to advance coordinated responses to address transnational WMD counter proliferation threats. Canada’s participation is characterized by involvement from across relevant Federal Government Departments and Agencies. Through its participation in these initiatives, Canada seeks to reduce the likelihood of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials falling into the wrong hands by:

  1. Helping to improve the WMD counter-proliferation capabilities of other countries through capacity-building initiatives;
  2. Strengthening international policy, operational, legal, and regulatory responses to WMD proliferation threats;
  3. Enhancing our domestic WMD counter-proliferation capabilities through the sharing of information and best practices and participation in exercises.

UN Security Council Resolution 1540

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter on April 28, 2004. It is the first Security Council resolution that addresses the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation by non-state actors. UNSCR 1540 places several binding obligations on states to refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer, or use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery. The Resolution obliges States, to adopt and enforce effective laws and to develop and enforce effective measures to establish domestic controls to prevent WMD proliferation by non-state actors. These domestic controls include:

    • Effective measures to account for and secure relevant materials in use, storage, and transport;
    • Effective physical protection measures;
    • Effective border control and law enforcement efforts to detect, deter, prevent, and combat illicit trafficking;
    • Effective national export and transshipment controls.

UNSCR 1540 established a dedicated Security Council committee to support implementation of the Resolution. The Committee plays an important role in gathering reports on 1540 implementation produced by States and in facilitating technical assistance for implementation by matching requests and offers for assistance. This is in line with a key element of UNSCR 1540 which calls upon states, in a position to do so, to offer assistance to other countries (such as technical, legal, or capacity-building support) to support 1540 implementation. In its work, the Committee is supporting by a Group of Experts appointed by the Secretary General. UNSCR 1977 (2011) reaffirmed the threat to international peace and security posed by WMD proliferation and extended the mandate of the USNCR 1540 committee until 2021.

Canada supports full and universal implementation of UNSCR 1540 as an important means to reduce WMD proliferation and security risks and to contribute to Canadian and international security. We continue to work with our partners to advance implementation of key elements of 1540, including the submission of initial implementation reports by all UN Member States to the 1540 committee. From a national perspective, Canada has submitted three national reports as well as a national action plan on 1540 implementation to the committee. At the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, Canada led a joint initiative with the Republic of Korea on 1540 implementation.

Supporting the implementation of UNSCR 1540 was recognized as one of four priority areas for the GP at the 2010 G8 Summit in Muskoka. Through its Global Partnership Program, Canada is actively working with countries in several regions worldwide to provide capacity-building assistance in support of 1540 implementation.

Proliferation Security Initiative

Launched in 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is a voluntary and concrete tool that aims to establish a more coordinated and effective basis on which countries can disrupt the movement of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern These actors continue to seek WMD materials and technology that circumvent international sanctions and national controls by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in international trade, such as transit and transshipment points as well as the relative ease of concealment. To date, 103 countries have endorsed the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles, which outlines a series of political commitments related to taking effective measures to interdict illicit WMD shipments.

WMD interdictions begin with the sharing of information about a cargo of proliferation concern, followed by the seizure of this cargo, and its disposal or return to an exporting state through enforcement action based on national law. Successful WMD interdictions require national and international legal authorities, operational capacity among customs and border officials, military and law enforcement, and intelligence and diplomatic personnel, as well as international coordination and cooperation.

Through multidisciplinary capacity-building, information-sharing, and practical exercises, PSI-participating states work to enhance the national capabilities and international cooperation required to effectively disrupt illicit shipments of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials at sea, by air, and on land, including during transit and transshipment. In helping to prevent illicit WMD trafficking, the PSI enables countries to effectively implement key obligations under relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, including UNSCR 1540.

Canada continues to play an active role in PSI-related activities, jointly led by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) and the Department of National Defense (DND), in coordination with Federal Government partners, including the Department of Public Safety, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Canada is a member of the 21-country Operational Experts Group (OEG), which serves as the steering group for the PSI.

Following the outcomes of the 2013 PSI High Level Political Meeting in Warsaw, Poland marking the initiative’s 10th anniversary, Canada is working with partners to implement key commitments to ensure that the PSI becomes an increasingly effective tool for information-sharing, capacity-building, and international cooperation to disrupt WMD proliferation. Canada’s priorities include:

  • Supporting and participating in PSI capacity-building initiatives and exercises;
  • Strengthening national and international legal authorities for WMD interdiction; and
  • Working with partners to increase the number of PSI-endorsing states.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) was created in July 2006, and currently consists of 85 countries and four official observers (the IAEA, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), INTERPOL and the EU). GICNT focuses on concrete operational-level cooperation among partners to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism rather than on developing new legal instruments or policies. To date, GICNT partners have conducted over 50 multilateral activities and seven senior-level meetings in support of nuclear security objectives. Canada joined as an initial partner nation and the GPP remains an active participant in GICNT events, including the Implementation and Assessment Group and annual plenary meetings. In May 2012, Canada hosted a GICNT tabletop exercise, Toronto RADEX 2012, on capabilities for response, mitigation, and investigation of terrorist attacks and for information sharing. It was attended by over 100 participants representing 14 GICNT members.

Nuclear Security Summit

In recognizing the urgent and immediate threat to global security posed by nuclear terrorism, US President Barack Obama convened the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in March 2010 in order to garner international support for a cooperative effort to secure all vulnerable weapons-grade nuclear materials around the world in four years and to galvanize global efforts to further nuclear security and prevent nuclear terrorism. Canada strongly supports the NSS process as a critical tool for bringing together the international community in order to address shared challenges through effective nuclear security cooperation.

Prime Minister Harper attended the first NSS in 2010 (in Washington), as well as the second NSS in 2012 (with Minister Baird, in Seoul, South Korea). In these previous Summits, Canada announced the repatriation of US-origin spent highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel (2010 NSS), and HEU-bearing liquids and HEU-booster rods (2012 NSS) by 2018, with efforts remaining on track. In 2010, Canada announced Global Partnership Program (GPP) funding of: C$5M and US$3M for reactor conversion and HEU cleanout in Mexico and Vietnam respectively, and C$120M for nuclear security programming in Russia. In 2012, Canada announced the renewal of the GPP ($367M over five years), and C$5M to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund (NSF).

The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit took place from 24-25 March. Through the NSS process, important commitments were made to reduce the amount of dangerous nuclear material (e.g. plutonium and highly enriched uranium in 26 of 28 countries that had at least 1 kg of HEU in 2010); improve the security of nuclear material and radioactive sources; strengthen the international nuclear security architecture; and improve international cooperation and information sharing. Cooperation with industry was highlighted as essential to implementing the necessary measures. Prime Minister Harper announced Canada's ratification of the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; its commitment to host an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) mission in 2014 or 2015; and over $28M in Global Partnership programming to enhance nuclear and radiological security. Canada also co-led a joint statement with the Republic of Korea on concrete initiatives in support of the full and universal implementation of United Nations Security Resolution 1540 (countering weapons of mass destruction terrorism), which was supported by over 30 countries as well as the UN. In addition, Canada contributed to a number of other voluntary commitments (“gift basket” statements).

Export Control Regimes

The Government of Canada tightly regulates the export of material, equipment and technology in the nuclear, chemical, and biological fields, and conventional weapons, as well as related dual-use goods and a number of additional strategic goods and technologies (such as sensitive space components). This is done in order to ensure that such exports are consistent with Canada’s foreign and defense policies, including that relevant materials, goods, and technologies are exported only to entities in countries that meet Canada’s stringent requirements regarding non-proliferation, or arms control in the case of conventional weapons. Sensitive exports are assessed to take into account considerations of proliferation and arms control by determining whether the export:

  • represents an unacceptable risk of diversion to a programme for proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons , or for the means of delivery for such weapons;
  • is in accordance with national, multinational and international generally recognised principles, commitments and agreements regarding the transfer of conventional weapons; and
  • represents an unacceptable risk to space security.

Such exports often require the issuance of an export permit pursuant to the provisions of the Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA). Most items on Canada’s Export Control List (ECL) derive from Canada’s commitments under multilateral export control regimes or from Canada’s obligations as a state party to relevant multilateral or bilateral international agreements. The ECL is divided into seven Groups, each of which is derived from the common control lists of the export control regimes (except Group 5, Miscellaneous Goods and Technology).

Canada participates in the export control regimes, multilateral initiatives created in response to concern about the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, missiles, and related dual use goods and technologies or, in the case of the Wassenaar Arrangement, in order to regulate the export of conventional weapons. Each regime addresses a different category of goods and technologies and maintains a list of relevant equipment, technology, and materials.

For a closer look at export controls in Canada, as well as how to get an export permit, click here.

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was created in 1974 following the explosion of a nuclear device by a non-nuclear weapon state, which demonstrated that nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused. The goal of the NSG is to support the effective implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by establishing clear rules on nuclear transfers. Through its Guidelines, the NSG aims to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. These Guidelines seek to control nuclear transfers and dual use nuclear equipment, material and technology that could make a significant contribution to an unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activity. The NSG also supports communication and information sharing amongst participating governments regarding possible nuclear proliferation issues.

Canada is a founding participating government in the NSG and we participate actively in NSG plenary meetings and working groups. Through these meetings, Canada and the NSG ensure that the most stringent nuclear and nuclear-related export controls are in place through the continual strengthening and revision of the NSG Guidelines. We implement the NSG control lists for nuclear material, equipment, and technology, through Groups 3 and 4 of Canada’s ECL, which requires that DFATD issue a permit for the export of listed nuclear material, equipment, and technology or related goods. In addition, a licence must be issued by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission pursuant to the provisions of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. A permit and licence are issued only when the responsible officials are satisfied that the proposed export meets all of Canada’s stringent nuclear non-proliferation requirements.

Zangger Committee (ZC)

The Zangger Committee (ZC), composed of 38 states, was formed following the coming into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It aims to define which nuclear items, including source or special fissionable materials, and equipment or materials especially designed or prepared for the processing, use, or production of such materials, should require (or “trigger”) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Under the NPT, these items should be subject to IAEA safeguards if supplied by any NPT state party to any non-nuclear weapon state. ZC guidelines provide three conditions for such supply: assurance of non-explosive use, an IAEA safeguards requirement, and a provision regarding the terms of retransfer.

Canada currently chairs the ZC, represented by Mr. Shawn Caza, Counsellor and Alternate Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the International Organizations in Vienna. We also participate as a member of the ZC, including through implementation of its decisions in Canada’s export controls.

Australia Group (AG)

The Australia Group is an informal export control regime that seeks to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. It was founded in 1985, following the discovery that a sizeable portion of the equipment and chemical precursors used in Iraq’s chemical weapons program were acquired through legitimate trade channels. Numerous countries, including Canada, decided to create the Australia Group, under permanent Australian chairmanship, and harmonize their export controls, first on chemical precursors and dual-use chemical manufacturing equipment, and then on biological agents and dual-use biotechnology. They also decided to meet periodically to share information on relevant scientific breakthroughs, update export control lists, and discuss cases of attempted proliferation and trends thereof.

Canada is one of the Australia Group’s 42 current members and actively participates in the annual Plenary meeting and intersessional discussions. Through these meetings, Canada helps to ensure that effective controls are in place to address current chemical/biological proliferation threats.

Canada implements the Australia Group common control lists through Group 7 of the ECL. Permission from DFATD must be sought prior to any export of listed chemicals, biological agents, and dual-use goods. In addition, licences will need to be sought from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) for permission to export pathogens not listed under Group 7.

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is an informal voluntary association of countries acting to limit trade in unmanned delivery systems that can deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It seeks to coordinate national export licensing to prevent the spread of WMD.

Canada and all MTCR partners have voluntarily introduced export licences for rocket and other unmanned air delivery systems, as well as related equipment, material and technology, to deter those who seek to build or acquire unmanned WMD delivery systems and related technologies. For Canada, the MTCR control list can be found in Group 6 of the ECL.

MTCR partners closely watch transfers of missile equipment, material, and related technologies that can be used to deliver WMD. Partners apply common export policy guidelines (the MTCR Guidelines), based on a common list of controlled items (the MTCR Equipment, Software and Technology Annex).

The MTCR does not make export licensing decisions as a group. Individual partners have discretion to implement the Guidelines and Annex according to their national legislation and practices. Partners regularly trade relevant data about export licence issues.

Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States established the MTCR in 1987. The number of MTCR partners has since increased to 34.

Wassenaar Arrangement

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-use Goods and Technologies was established in 1996. Its objective is to contribute to regional and international security and stability by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technology, thus preventing destabilizing accumulations. Canada, together with 32 other countries, was a founding member (Participating State) of this organization. There are now 41 Participating States.

Participating States seek to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine the above mentioned goals and to ensure that these items are not diverted to support such capabilities. The Wassenaar Arrangement is also intended to enhance co-operation to prevent the acquisition of armaments and sensitive dual-use items for military end-uses, if the situation in a region or the behaviour of a state is, or becomes, a cause for serious concern to the Participating States. The Wassenaar Arrangement is not directed against any state or group of states and does not seek to impede bona fide civil transactions. The Wassenaar Arrangement also complements and reinforces, with minimal duplication, the other export control regimes for weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Dual-purpose items that have both civilian and military applications, items which are specially designed or modified for military purposes and those that present a strategic military concern, are among the items which Canada has committed to control for export as a result of its participation in the Wassenaar Arrangement. These items can be found under Group 1 and Group 2 of the ECL.