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Soon after the bombing in Afghanistan began in 2001, the Pentagon announced its intention to change the colour of the humanitarian daily rations being airdropped throughout the country. These are the small yellow packages of prepared meals that contain enough calories to feed a person for one day. The practice of distributing humanitarian rations dates back to the conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. They were designed to reduce mortality rates during emergencies or humanitarian crises, and perhaps even win a few hearts and minds in the process.
By the time the Pentagon changed the packaging, some 2.5 million humanitarian rations had already been dropped, and U.S. forces had dropped more than 1.000 BLU-92 cluster bombs throughout Afghanistan, containing some 250,000 submunitions. Regrettably, the thousands of bomblets that failed to explode on impact were the same size and colour as these humanitarian packages. As the humanitarian rations blanketed the landscape, they were mixed in with the bomblets. One cannot imagine how many children had their limbs blown off due to this careless oversight.
Honourable senators, in a way, it is understandable why countries like Russia, China and the U.S. are reluctant to remove cluster munitions from their arsenals. Developed in the lead-up to the Vietnam War, cluster bombs are highly effective area weapons, designed to lay out barriers, block forces and push troops into killing zones. They can be used to rapidly take out airfields, swaths of tanks or large troop formations — the kinds of formations we expected to face in the Cold War, in classic war.
Almost immediately following their development, cluster bombs became the weapon of choice for area denial. Instead of asking the ethical, legal and moral questions of how the weapon would affect civilians, the only question asked was, "How many of these things can we actually make?" and so they built them by the hundreds of thousands.
Today, we are at the point where some 86 countries stockpile the weapon. While Canada has never used them, 18 other nations have. For example, some 500,000 cluster bombs, comprising 285 million sub-munitions, were dropped over the fields, cities and peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, between 1964 and 1975. In the 1980s and 1990s, they were used extensively in places like Lebanon by the Israeli forces and in Iraq and Kosovo by U.S. Forces.
In all of these conflicts, cluster munitions have been shown to be highly effective in killing human beings. However, behind this is an even more devastating truth: The real cost, the human cost, is the civilian cost.
By their very nature, cluster bombs are imprecise weapons. Launched from the air, artillery systems or rocket launchers, each one opens mid-air to release dozens or hundreds of bomblets. Strikes cover areas the size of football fields and have no ability to distinguish between enemies, friendly combatants or civilians — even children.
Children like 6-year-old Umarbek, a young boy from Tajikistan whose home was struck by these weapons in 1991. Just imagine his horror as shrapnel sliced through his right eye and ripped through his small torso and face. It tore through his sister's abdomen and took his brother's life.
Just like land mines, cluster munitions kill, maim and injure innocent civilians long after conflicts come to an end. This happens because many fail to explode on impact, littering whole communities with unexploded ordinance. Failure rates have been calculated from anywhere between 7 per cent and 40 per cent depending on the ground and the vegetation, for many stay stuck in the leaves of trees.
Even at 1 per cent, we are dealing with thousands of unexploded bomblets. As a result, farmers cannot farm, refugees cannot return, and those who do risk life and limb.
What is more, honourable senators, these weapons were designed for another era. Today's conflicts are nothing like the wars of old. These are not territorial wars. Once war moved into the cities, it became more and more difficult to tell civilians from combatants; this is a time of civil war.
Not only are there more civilian casualties, there are also more and more large stationary targets that these weapons were designed to attack. Nobody is deploying large armies en masse either. As such, cluster munitions are no longer useful in a military arsenal. They also pose a serious problem with respect to ethics and international law.
That is why Canada, in 2008, joined what are now 111 countries in deciding to comprehensively ban the use of these weapons by signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions. After four years of waiting, we now have Bill S-10, our ratification legislation.
This bill has the potential to be a strong legislative tool to end the use of the weapon. Clause 6, the heart of the bill, lays out clear and unambiguous prohibitions against cluster munitions use. It bans the use, development, acquisition, possession, movement, import and export of cluster munitions. Furthermore — and this is key — subclause 6(f) states that we may not "aid, abet or counsel" other persons to use cluster munitions or perform any of the prohibited acts above.
Yet, this bill is flawed — deeply so, I am afraid. Its promise is undermined by its exceptions, exceptions so broad that you can drive a tank through them. They water down and weaken the treaty, perhaps even critically.
Despite our best intentions, there are provisions in this bill that would allow members of the Canadian Forces to expressly request the use of cluster munitions while in combined operations, such as NATO missions. These are indicated in paragraphs 11(1)(a) and (b). Moreover, paragraph 11(1)(c) grants our Armed Forces permission to use, acquire and possess cluster munitions while on secondment. Secondment means that we fall under the command of the country to which we are seconded and are given roles of command of their troops in their operations.
This is not a meaningful prohibition; this is a half measure, and not worthy of a country that has, for so long, led the world in disarmament.
The policy enshrined in this bill completely contradicts our stance on anti-personnel land mines, of which we are the world leader. It contradicts the spirit of the convention we have signed. It contradicts established Canadian policy and the values that have inspired it.
In a memo dated August 11, 1998, the then Chief of the Defence Staff clearly prohibited Canadian commanders of combined forces from authorizing the use of anti-personnel mines. Likewise, personnel being commanded by foreign nationals are prohibited from using or even planning to use land mines, and contingents may not use, request or encourage the use of mines by others.
That is the precedent; the groundwork is laid. Its origins are in this very city. It is called the Ottawa Convention, where, in 1997, Canada joined forces with civil society in a campaign to ban land mines. It worked. We no longer needed land mines to achieve tactical or strategic objectives or defences.
The same can be said today of cluster munitions. We actually assisted nations in getting rid of their land mines by proving that other systems could be not only as but even more effective than the use of old land mine systems.
Yet, Bill S-10 contains an exception in paragraph 11(3)(a). It would allow Canadian Forces to aid and abet the use of cluster munitions while in combined operations.
It does not make sense to comprehensively ban an immoral, indiscriminate weapon and then turn around and say it is still okay to use them in combined operations. Almost all operations are combined operations, and so we are effectively paving the way for their continued use. We do not conduct operations as a single nation anymore; we conduct them with other nations as part of combined operations, be they under the UN, NATO or even regional authorities.
Honourable senators, there is no doubt that many of these exceptions go beyond what is strictly necessary to ensure the legal protection of our troops engaged in multinational operations. Many of them actually go against the spirit of the convention and may even violate international law.
This bill allows activities that are forbidden by the convention, which is entirely illegal or at the very least morally untenable, thus creating ethical, moral and legal dilemmas for commanders. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:
A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.
The object of the treaty in question is clear: it aims to put an end, once and for all, to the use of cluster munitions, and not to try to find ways to help or encourage non-signatory states to use them.
In fact, the convention sets out specific limits to interoperability. Article 21(4), which deals with interoperability, clearly states that nothing shall authorize a State Party to use, transfer, acquire — or request the use of — cluster munitions.
Similarly, Article 19 of the Anti-personnel Mines Convention, to which Canada is a signatory, clearly states:
The Articles of this Convention shall not be subject to reservations.
I would like to be very clear on this, regarding the terms of subparagraph (1)(c) of Article 1, states parties undertake to, never under any circumstances, assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any prohibited activity, including the use, requesting the use of, or the transfer of cluster munitions.
Thus, our obligations could not be any clearer. The spirit of the treaty, as I have described it, leaves no doubt in my mind as to the goal of the treaty and the attitude of its signatories in that regard. Canada has a duty to honour its obligations. Canada has made a promise and must keep it.
Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. How can we completely prohibit these weapons without giving up key command posts in international operations?
We are told that these exceptions are necessary so as not to compromise opportunities for cooperation between the Canadian Forces and our allies. Honourable senators, nothing could be further from the truth.
Does anyone really think that our decision to not employ cluster munitions will compromise our chances of commanding NATO missions? Do you think that the cluster munitions issue truly had an impact on the decision to appoint Lieutenant-General Bouchard as commander of the mission in Libya? They were looking for the best person to do the job and to do it successfully.
Of the 28 NATO member countries, 20 have already signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Even though, as an organization, NATO itself cannot sign disarmament treaties, it has always made a point of honouring and supporting them.
NATO attaches great importance to conventional arms control and provides an essential consultative and decision-making forum for its members on all aspects of arms control and disarmament.
At the Bucharest Summit in 2008, the government leaders declared that:
. . . disarmament . . . will continue to make an important contribution to peace, security and stability . . . [and] NATO should continue contributing to international efforts in the area of . . . disarmament.
This commitment was reaffirmed in 2009 in Strasbourg and in 2010 in Lisbon.
In fact, NATO said that the Convention on Cluster Munitions was an important and relevant initiative for peace and security. Canada is a well-respected leader, and our roles within NATO and the Convention on Cluster Munitions must not contradict each other.
Honourable senators, as we move towards committee stage, we have a great deal of work ahead of us with this bill. First, we must study Bill S-10 in detail and seek expert advice of not only military and retired military and even veterans of missions but also civil society, which is fast becoming the voice of humanity, certainly on issues of disarmament.
Second, we must address the ethical, legal, and moral issues introduced by section 11. Surely some exceptions will be necessary, but like the Ottawa mine ban treaty, they must be narrow in scope. The question we must ask ourselves is which exceptions are absolutely essential — not necessary, not nice to have, but essential. This should become central to the committee's work.
Third, we should consider drafting prohibitions against financial investment in these weapons as New Zealand and other allies have done.
Fourth, we should enshrine the positive obligations laid out in Article 21 so as to make it clear to allies where we stand with this weapon.
Finally, we should ensure this legislation applies to all Canadians overseas, not only Armed Forces, so Canadians will not be in a position to sell, transport or otherwise aid in the use of these weapons.
Honourable senators, in conclusion, should we fail to pass strong, comprehensive ratification legislation, we will create a precedent that will ultimately undermine the convention, potentially leading to the continued proliferation of these weapons and the destruction of innocent civilians.
In her speech, Senator Fortin-Duplessis vividly described the disproportionate effects that cluster munitions have on civilians. She has told us they cause widespread damage and indiscriminate harm, particularly when used near populated areas. She has told us that they injure, mutilate and, too often, kill innocent people and that 98 per cent — a little high, but still — of reported casualties have been civilians.
When we took the collective decision to ban cluster munitions in 2008, we did so because we believed the harm caused by cluster munitions far outweighs any military advantage they offer. I would submit that this equation does not change in combined operations.
Honourable senators, we must reject the temptation to water down a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. We must craft our laws to be in accord with our principles. We must rise above narrow self-interest and put the good of humanity above the good of our own tribe. For the sake of civilians everywhere and for our women and men in uniform, we can do no less, and, yes, we can do so without putting our men and women in combat at any higher risk by signing on and passing an appropriate ban on the use of these weapons. I stake my personal military reputation on this fact.
Honourable senators, the world expects Canada to lead. We have led, and it is in that duty that we must continue to lead.
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