Canada is committed to the complete elimination of chemical weapons and to holding to account those that use chemical weapons. Canada has been a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) since its entry into force in 1997. Canada works closely with, and is a leading supporter of, the CWC’s implementing body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is based in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Canada actively works with other States Parties to the CWC as well as the OPCW to prevent chemical weapons proliferation and use by either states or non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations.
On this page
- Defining chemical weapons
- Chemical Weapons Convention
- Eliminating chemical weapons
- Recent changes
- Meeting our obligations
- Strengthening chemical weapons security
- Key initiatives
- Related links
Defining chemical weapons
Chemical weapons use the toxic properties of chemicals to cause physical harm, ranging from discomfort to death. A toxic chemical agent is any chemical, which through its action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to humans or animals.
Since their introduction during the First World War, chemical weapons have been used more often than any other category of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The 1925 Geneva Protocol first banned the use of toxic chemical agents in war.
The Chemical Weapons Convention defines chemical weapons as, together or separately:
- Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under the Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes.
- Munitions and devices specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals.
- Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of those munitions and devices.
Chemical Weapons Convention
The CWC is the treaty which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, retention, transfer, and use of chemical weapons. Over 190 States have ratified or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
In recent years, despite progress, there has been cause for concern with the Chemical Weapons ban:
- Chemical weapons attacks have continued in Syria, perpetrated by both the Syrian regime and Daesh. Most recently, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team has attributed attacks in Ltamenah (March 2017), Saraqib (February 2018), and Douma (April 2018) to the Assad regime.
- A chemical weapon was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, in Malaysia (February 2017).
- Highly lethal nerve agents of the Novichok group were used in assassination attempts against Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom (March 2018) and Alexei Navalny in Russia (August 2020).
To help prevent future use of chemical weapons and to hold to account those that carry out such attacks, Canada provides funds and technical expertise to the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission and its attribution mechanism, the Investigation and Identification Team. These contributions make Canada one of the largest contributors to the global effort to end the use of chemical weapons.
Eliminating chemical weapons
The disarmament provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention involve the destruction of all chemical weapons in a State Party's possession, all production facilities used since 1946 to produce chemical weapons and any chemical weapons previously abandoned on the territory of another State Party.
Canada, through the Weapons Threat Reduction Program, has provided significant contributions to assist with the destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles. In partnership with the OPCW, the United Nations, INTERPOL and other members of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (Global Partnership), Canada has to date contributed over $240 million to support chemical weapons destruction in Russia, Libya, Iraq and Syria and tangible chemical weapons threat reduction activities around the world. Canada is steadfast in its commitment to support further concrete actions that mitigate threats and hold to account those that have committed chemical weapons-related atrocities, so as to protect Canadians and individuals everywhere from the horrors of chemical weapons.
In November 2019, in response to the use of a Novichok-type nerve agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom almost two years earlier, 4 new categories of toxic chemicals were officially added to Schedule 1 of the CWC Annex on Chemicals. This new list of controlled chemicals entered into force on June 7, 2020.
The most up-to-date version of the Annex on Chemicals, including the list of newly added chemicals, can be found on the website of the OPCW.
Meeting our obligations
The verification system of the CWC requires each State Party, including Canada, to:
- Provide declarations verifiable by the OPCW through data monitoring and on-site routine inspections.
- declare to the OPCW annual data on its chemical industry and accept international verification of compliance.
- establish a National Authority to serve as the national focal point for liaison with the OPCW and with other States Parties.
Canada meets its obligations through the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act (CWCIA) and its regulations. These laws create the Canadian National Authority, located at Global Affairs Canada, and set out the rights and obligations of Canadians, including those who must submit declarations and those who are subject to inspection by the OPCW.
If you believe the obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention affect you, please see The Canadian National Authority (Chemical Weapons Convention).
Strengthening chemical weapons security
Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program (WTRP) is a global leader in the delivery of chemical threat reduction programming. The activities are guided by the collective Chemical Security Strategic Vision of the Global Partnership, which aims to:
- support chemical weapons destruction
- prevent and respond to chemical weapons use
- strengthen and support the OPCW
- support and enhance chemical non-proliferation instruments, institutions and practices
- foster collaboration on national, regional, and global security initiatives aimed at preventing and/or responding to the misuse of chemicals
- enhance the security of chemicals and
- promote chemical security culture globally
- Canada is the top national donor to the OPCW’s new Centre for Chemistry and Technology. The new Centre which was inaugurated in May 2023, will help to strengthen the OPCW’s capabilities to fully address new and emerging chemical weapons threats and support capacity building in OPCW Member States. Canada’s WTRP led a successful effort within the G7-led Global Partnership to prioritize support for the new Centre, with Global Partnership members voluntarily providing more than 99% of all contributions.
- WTRP is supporting INTERPOL to implement its Chemical and Explosives Terrorism Prevention (CHEMEX) Programme. This collaboration aims to further strengthen the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and respond to chemical terrorism incidents.
- Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program is supporting efforts to counter chemical weapons disinformation campaigns and to hold the regime of Bashar al-Assad to account for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. This includes support for the publication of materials on the Syrian chemical weapons landscape, including a comprehensive dataset of confirmed attacks: Nowhere to Hide: The Specter of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria.
- In collaboration with other members of the G7-led Global Partnership, Canada played a leading role in supporting the destruction of Russia’s declared chemical weapons arsenal (40,000 tons). Canada contributed more than $200 million for the construction of nerve agent destruction facilities at Shchuch’ye (in the Kurgan Region of Russia) and in Kizner (in the Udmurt Republic), which eliminated over 10,000 tons of chemical weapons and four million chemical munitions.
- Canada is one of the largest national contributors to global efforts to end the use of chemical weapons, and has contributed more than $40 million to the OPCW to support destruction, verification, monitoring, training and investigation of chemical weapons.
- Prime Minister Trudeau announces $15M in DPRK WMD Threat Reduction Programing (May 2023)
- Statement by Canada to Introduce the Global Partnership Chemical Security Programming Compendium at the Fifth CWC Review Conference (May 2023)
- Canada contributes €1.8 million to strengthen OPCW programmes (May 2022)
- Supporting the Fight against the Proliferation of Chemical Weapons through Cheminformatics (March 2022)
- Canada’s Statement to the 26th Meeting of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (November 2021) (PDF version)
- The Last Straw: How Chemical Weapons Impact Women and Break Communities (February 2021)
- Canada Contributes Further $2.5 million to OPCW Centre for Chemistry and Technology (September 24, 2020)
- Canada condemns Alexei Navalny poisoning (September 2, 2020)
- Global Partnership Chemical Security Strategic Vision
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