Counter proliferation and export controls

On this page

Export control regimes

Canada tightly regulates the export of material, equipment, and technology in the nuclear, chemical, and biological fields. Export controls also apply to conventional weapons, related dual-use goods, and a number of additional strategic goods and technologies.

These regulations ensure that such exports are consistent with our foreign and defense policies. Controlled materials, goods, and technologies are exported only to entities in countries that meet our stringent export control requirements regarding:

Sensitive exports are assessed for proliferation and arms control considerations by determining whether the export:

Export permits

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) reflect Canada’s obligations under relevant multilateral international agreements.

Canada participates in export control regimes and multilateral initiatives in response to our concerns about the proliferation of:

Each export control regime addresses a different category of goods and technologies and maintains current lists of controlled equipment, technology, and materials.

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Created in 1974, Canada helped found the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) following the explosion of a nuclear device in India, a non-nuclear weapons state. The event in India demonstrated that nuclear technology was spreading and may not always be used for peaceful purposes.

The goal of the NSG is to support the effective implementation of the NPT by establishing clear rules on nuclear transfers.

Guidelines on nuclear trade for peaceful purposes

NSG guidelines aim 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 materials 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 and the NSG ensure that the most stringent nuclear and nuclear-related export controls are in place, through the ongoing strengthening and revision of the NSG Guidelines.

Control lists for nuclear material, equipment, and technology

Global Affairs Canada implements the NSG’s control lists for nuclear material, equipment, and technology. This requires a permit for the export of listed nuclear material, equipment, and technology or related goods.

In addition, a license must be issued by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, following the provisions of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

A permit and license 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

After the NPT came into force, the Zangger Committee (ZC) was formed. We are one of 38 member states and contribute through the implementation of ZC decisions in Canada’s export controls.

The ZC aims to define which nuclear items should trigger International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. This includes fissionable materials (or materials that can give nuclear weapons their explosive power) and equipment or materials especially designed or prepared for the processing, use, or production of such materials.

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:

Australia Group

Founded in 1985, the Australia Group (AG), under permanent Australian chairmanship, is a multilateral export control regime made up of 43 countries. The AG seeks to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons.

Canada joined with a number of other countries to create the AG so as to harmonize their export controls on:

The AG also meets periodically to share information on relevant scientific breakthroughs, update export control lists, and discuss trends in cases of attempted proliferation.

Canada actively participates in the annual plenary meeting and intersessional discussions to ensure that effective controls are in place to address current chemical and biological proliferation threats.

Canada implements the Australia Group common control lists through the Group 7 of the Export Control List.

Applicants must obtain permission from Global Affairs Canada prior to any export of controlled:

In addition, applicants are required to obtain licenses from the Public Health Agency of Canada for permission to export pathogens not listed under Group 7.

Missile Technology Control Regime

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is an informal voluntary association of 35 countries acting to limit trade in unmanned delivery systems that can deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It coordinates national export licensing to prevent the spread of WMD.

Canada and all MTCR partners have voluntarily introduced export licenses for rockets, missiles, and other unmanned air delivery systems. Licenses are required for 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 is in Group 6 of the Export Control List.

MTCR partners closely watch transfers of missile and UAV equipment, material, and related technologies that can be used to deliver WMD. Partners apply common export policy guidelines based on a common list of controlled items.

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

In 1987, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States established the MTCR.

Wassenaar Arrangement

The Wassenaar Arrangement’s goal is to contribute to security and stability by promoting transparency and responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technology.

In 1996, the Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-use Goods and Technologies was established.

Preventing the build-up of weapons

The Wassenaar Arrangement seeks to ensure that transfers of controlled items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities that can undermine regional and international security and stability.

Canada was a founding member of this organization. There are now 41 participating states.

Enhancing cooperation

The Wassenaar Arrangement intends to enhance co-operation to prevent the acquisition of armaments and sensitive dual-use items for military end-uses.

The Wassenaar Arrangement is not directed against any state or group of states and does not seek to impede legitimate civil transactions. It also complements and reinforces, with little duplication, the other export control regimes for weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Through its membership in the Wassenaar Arrangement, Canada has committed to control:

These items are under Groups 1 and 2 of the Export Control List.

Related links

Proliferation Security Initiative

In May 2003, the United States launched the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The PSI was established in response to the growing challenge posed by the proliferation of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials.

The PSI is not an organization, but rather a voluntary international grouping of nations establishing a flexible, voluntary, and open mechanism aimed at enhancing interdiction capabilities.

Participation by nations is subject to the endorsement of PSI’s Statement of Interdiction Principles that includes:

Canadian position

Canada joined PSI in December 2003. Over 100 other states also participate in the initiative. Participation in PSI is consistent with, and supportive of, Canada’s efforts to strengthen counter-proliferation mechanisms to promote regional stability and international security. Canadian participation in PSI helps us to:

Canada’s participation in the PSI is characterized by a multi-disciplinary, whole-of-government approach. Global Affairs Canada leads on policy issues, while the Department of National Defense leads on operational issues. Canada has attended every PSI Operational Experts Group (OEG) meeting. Canada has hosted OEG meetings in Ottawa (2004, 2015) and Montreal (2006). Canada also actively participates in the PSI exercise program. The program allows states to test their operational capabilities for interdiction on land, at sea, and in the air. Through multinational exercises, PSI participants also clearly convey to would-be proliferators their collective determination to combat illicit trafficking in WMD, their means of delivery and related materials.

Capacity building and exercises

Canada takes part in capacity building exercises to help develop counter-proliferation capacities among PSI-participating countries.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) participates each year in Exercise TRADEWINDS. It is a training event in the Caribbean led by the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). The exercise brings together defence and security partners from different countries to improve security in the region.

There are four main areas of focus:

  1. stopping organized crime and other threats that affect people across borders;
  2. providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief;
  3. responding quickly to all events; and
  4. strengthening partnerships, including between militaries and civilian organizations.

The exercise has multiple phases to make sure that it can meet diverse training needs.

Canada also hosts regular technical workshops and seminars to support counter-proliferation efforts in the Caribbean. These events seek to build capacity in areas such as customs enforcement and commodity identification.

Operational Experts Group

The Operational Experts Group (OEG) of 21 countries, which includes Canada, provides an annual forum for members to share experiences and coordinate national responses to emerging threats.

The Group plays a vital role to make sure the PSI is effective by:

The OEG is composed of:

Critical capabilities and practices

The Critical Capabilities and Practices effort began in 2010 to provide practical resources for the effective implementation of the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles. The Review Team supports the effort. It maintains a library of tools and resources for participating countries to use. These include: model legislation; commodity identification guides; legal analysis of United Nations Security Council resolutions; and best practices for sharing information.

Related links

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540

The possibility of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is one of the gravest threats to international peace and security. Many countries do not have adequate legislation, regulations, or controls to prevent the acquisition of WMDs and related materials by non-state actors, including terrorists, within their borders.

To respond to these threats, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540) in 2004. This resolution places legally-binding obligations on all UN Member States to prevent the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, their means of delivery, and related materials to non-state actors, including terrorists and traffickers of such materials. Obligations under this resolution include the following:

As a strong and longstanding advocate of non-proliferation, Canada supports the full and universal implementation of UNSCR 1540 as an important means to reduce WMD proliferation and security risks.

To achieve this goal, Canada works with its partners to advance its implementation, including by encouraging the submission of reports and action plans by all UN Member States to the 1540 Committee. To date, Canada has submitted 3 three national reports and two national action plans. In 2016, following a comprehensive review of UNSCR 1540, Canada co-sponsored UNSCR 2325. This resolution calls on all States to strengthen national anti-proliferation regimes in implementation of resolution 1540, to submit timely reports on their efforts, and to enhance assistance for building State capacity in that regard.

Canada is a strong supporter of UNSCR 1540 and 2325 and is actively engaged in initiatives that promote universal implementation of these resolutions, including:

Canada also supports the UNSCR 1540 through several multilateral export control regimes, including:

Offering assistance to other countries

Importantly, UNSCR 1540 encourages international cooperation and invites States to assist other countries who may need technical, legal, or capacity-building support to fulfil their obligations under the Resolution.

To assist with this, the Resolution established the 1540 Committee, which is supported by a Group of Experts appointed by the Secretary General. The committee receives reports on 1540 implementation produced by States, and matches technical assistance requests and offers. It also raises awareness of the risk of WMD proliferation and conducts outreach.

Strengthening global non-proliferation security

The UNSCR 1540 implementation programming is part of Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program (WTRP) supports countries’ capabilities to fulfil the resolution’s requirements.

As examples of this, the WTRP coordinates training of first responders in priority countries by members of Canada's National Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Explosives (CBRNE) Response Team.

For example, in 2017, the Canadian team assisted the Malaysian police and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board in response to two incidents:

  1. An airport sweep at Kuala Lumpur International Airport that led to the detection of traces VX elements, following the February 13 death of a North Korean national at the airport
  2. The discovery of projectors containing stolen category-2 radioactive material Iridium-192. Following arrests, police and experts used radiation detectors to sweep and seize all radioactive materials in the area

Canada also provides funding to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Custom Organization (WCO). The funding helps the joint Container Control Program, which aims to strengthen detection capabilities at key seaports.

Key Initiatives

Date Modified: