Conventional weapons

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Conventional weapons, which includes small arms and light weapons, cluster munitions and landmines, are relatively easy to access, particularly by non-state actors. This can make such groups a potent force capable of inflicting great harm on local populations. The illicit trafficking of conventional weapons undermines security and stability, particularly in vulnerable and volatile regions. Various international processes, most notably the Arms Trade Treaty to which Canada recently acceded, seek to regularize the flows of these weapons and prevent, or at least reduce, illicit proliferation.

Landmines and cluster munitions can collectively have major impacts on communities and populations. An area that is mined, or suspected of being mined, can render an entire region a no-go zone, severely disrupting economic and social activities. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of victims of landmines and cluster munitions suffering from horrendous and debilitating injuries that severely impact their ability to contribute to their societies and their overall quality of life.

Arms Trade Treaty

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a legally binding instrument that regulates and sets common standards for the international trade in conventional arms. The ATT promotes responsibility, transparency and accountability in the global arms trade but does not affect domestic firearms policies. It requires that state parties assess the risk of negative effects of conventional arms exports, including violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including gender-based violence The states shall not authorize the export if they determine that there is an over-riding risk of any of these negative consequences.

Canada’s Accession

Canada deposited its Instrument of Accession on 19 June 2019, and officially became a State Party to the ATT on 17 September of the same year.

Implementation in Canada

In preparing for accession to the ATT, Canada took action to strengthen its export controls regime by enshrining international humanitarian law and human rights considerations though Bill C-47, which amended the Export and Import Permits Act. As a result, the Minister of Foreign Affairs must deny export permits applications if he or she has determined that there is a substantial risk that the export would result in a serious violation of international humanitarian law or human rights, including serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children. Other criteria which would lead to a permit application denial include a substantial risk that the proposed export could be used to undermine peace and security, or to further international organized crime or terrorism. Bill C-47 also established controls on brokering of military items and modified the Criminal Code to make brokering without a permit a criminal offence.

Anti-personnel mines

Canada has been a leader in the global movement to ban landmines. Canada has played a major role in the political process leading to the signature of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in 1997. Two decades later, anti-personnel mines remain a global humanitarian problem.

These indiscriminate remnants of war remain buried in nearly 60 countries where they continue to maim and kill civilians, drain medical resources, impede development and pose a major obstacle to peace.

The Convention has resulted in a drastic reduction in global landmine use and a significant decrease in the number of new mine victims. Since its signing 20 years ago, 53 million mines have been destroyed and 30 countries have been declared mine-free.

The Ottawa Treaty

In October 1996, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy boldly challenged the international community to follow through with a global ban on landmines by announcing that Canada would hold a signing conference in December of the following year.

On December 3, 1997, 122 countries gathered in Ottawa to sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Treaty.

Widely considered one of the most successful disarmament agreements in modern times, the Ottawa Treaty was unique in taking a comprehensive approach to banning landmines. The development of the Ottawa Treaty had its roots in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Lack of consensus however led supporters of a global ban on landmines to work on an independent legal instrument.

With their signature, states agree to immediately stop producing, transferring and using anti-personnel mines. States also agree to take on the following five obligations to contribute to the humanitarian eradication of landmines, collectively known as “mine action”:

Canadian mine action

Canada supports mine action through a range of peace and security and development assistance programs.

This commitment reflects our focus on mine action as a key promoter for sustainable development and peace in mine-affected regions. It restores access to water and arable land and enables the provision of health and education services. Our work also facilitates the return of displaced persons, protects livestock and economic activities essential to development, and increases access to services for all people with needs similar to landmine survivors.

Mine action also supports the empowerment of women and girls by increasing their physical safety, improving their access to essential services and providing opportunities for women to be agents of change in their communities.

Cluster munitions

Canada is committed to putting an end to the use of cluster munitions and addressing their devastating impacts on civilians. Canada joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2015.

Cluster munitions typically contain large quantities of explosive sub-munitions that can blanket a large area in a short time. Many types are likely to have an indiscriminate effect when used, and leave a large number of unexploded “duds” that endanger local populations for decades after conflict has ended.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions

The Convention on Cluster Munitions came into force in 2010. It bans the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of all cluster munitions.

Founded in the same spirit as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Convention on Cluster Munitions also:

Canada and the Convention on Cluster Munitions

On March 16, 2015, the Act to Implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force. Canada ratified the convention the same day. In July 2014, the Canadian Armed Forces completed the destruction of its remaining cluster munitions stockpiles. Since then, Canadian Armed Forces-led missions no longer use cluster munitions.

Canada supports the clearance of unexploded cluster munitions through a range of peace and security and development assistance programs.

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Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

In 1980, the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW) was adopted. Canada was among the first group of countries to sign the convention when it opened for signature in 1981.

The CCW emerged from the need to restrict the use of specific weapons causing unnecessary suffering to combatants or that make it difficult to avoid harming civilians. The CCW itself contains general provisions, while restrictions on specific weapons are contained in annexed Protocols. The CCW is also a forum for states and civil society organizations to bring attention to and create dialogue around new issues of concern within conventional weapons use and development. Currently these include Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas and Mines Other Than Anti-Personnel Mines.

Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

Recent years have seen significant advances in machine learning and autonomous piloting technologies. We are concerned with the possible implications of how these and other developments could be integrated into Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). States are currently considering the issue in the CCW. The CCW is providing technical, legal and political experts a forum to exchange information, agree on definitions and dialogue. Canada supports the work of the Convention to consider LAWS.

Strengthening Conventional Weapons Security

Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program provides support for legislative and technical assistance to states parties, or states seeking to become parties, to international instruments related to the proliferation of conventional weapons. This includes funding to the Implementation Support Units or Secretariats of the Conventions, as well as assisting States with capacity building. Canada also works with international organizations and key decision-makers to support the effective inclusion of gender analysis in arms control discussions.

Key Initiatives

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