Non-governmental groups keeping an eye on the global arms trade say Canada needs to speak out more forcefully to prevent weapons from ending up in the hands of terrorists or human-rights abusers.
Amnesty International, Oxfam Canada and others say Canada has fairly high standards for the control of arms, but has not been vocal in urging others to follow suit.
Now, with a fresh round of UN negotiations on an arms-control treaty about to begin next week in New York, they want a clear statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to attend the talks.
“Now we have the opportunity to address this ongoing tragedy, a unique opportunity to bring the rest of the world up to Canada’s high standard,” Mark Fried of Oxfam Canada told reporters.
They say countries opposing higher standards — such as Syria, Egypt, Iran and Cuba — are blocking progress in the negotiations.
“Canada has been a quiet but steady supporter of a robust arms trade treaty to date, but Canada has left it to allies — including the United Kingdom, Mexico and Australia — to lead, alongside the poor countries that have suffered bitterly from the flood of weapons,” Mr. Fried said.
“If Canada remains silent, opponents of the treaty will water it down or tie it up in red tape.”
The groups say 119 Canadian parliamentarians have signed a global declaration in support of a strong treaty to regulate the arms trade, which has been under discussion since 2009.
In the meantime, the trade in weapons and ammunition is flourishing, the groups said, pointing out that there are more rules to control the trade in bananas than there are for arms.
The treaty would oblige countries to halt shipments of weapons and ammunition that would lead to violations of human rights or humanitarian law.
A spokesman for Mr. Baird said Canada will indeed be working with its allies during the July talks for a strong arms-trade treaty.
“Canada is committed to keeping arms out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and human rights abusers,” spokesman Rick Roth said in an email.
But he said Ottawa won’t sign on to anything that would impose extra burdens on hunters, farmers or law-abiding owners of firearms.
“An arms-trade treaty should not punish those engaged in the lawful trade or use of conventional arms,” he said.
“It is important that the (treaty) recognize the legitimacy of the legal and responsible international trade in conventional weapons and that it respects the lawful ownership of firearms by responsible private citizens for personal and recreational uses, such as sport shooting, hunting and collecting.”