H.E Mr. Marc-André Blanchard, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York with Ms. Arancha Hinojal Oyarbide, Chief Treaty Section, United Nations Office of Legal Affairs Photo Credit: Control Arms

After much anticipation, Canada has deposited its instrument of accession to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), becoming the 104th ATT State Party. Canada’s accession to the Treaty is a welcome and important one, given the country’s weight in multilateral diplomacy and as the world’s 16th largest arms exporter between 2014 and 2018.

Announcing this achievement, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs noted

Today’s announcement is a significant milestone in Canada’s contributions to international efforts to combat the illicit trade of weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty sets a real global standard, and helps prevent human rights abuses and protect lives.

It is about protecting people from arms.

It ensures countries effectively regulate the international trade of arms, so they are not used to support human rights abuses, gender-based violence, terrorism, international organized crime, or violations of international humanitarian law.”

Canada’s pioneering efforts in maintaining a feminist foreign policy, as laid out in its Feminist International Assistance Policy, can add a progressive, forward-thinking voice in disarmament and arms control as well as in the peace and security fora. The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who explicitly noted that sexual and gender-based violence is “becoming more pervasive in conflict settings”, stressed the need to end such violence, and pledged to “encourage greater participation by women in peace processes … and to advance the global women, peace and security agenda.”

Control Arms looks forward to Canada playing a global leadership role in the delivery of the gender-based violence (GBV) criteria within the ATT, as a mechanism to help prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict zones.  

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On behalf of Control Arms member, Project Ploughshares, Executive Director Cesar Jaramillo welcomed the announcement by stating Canada’s accession to the ATT is a welcome and long-overdue objective that Canadian civil society groups have been advocating for since the treaty’s entry into force in 2014. However, Treaty accession alone is not automatically tantamount to increased rigour and transparency around the arms trade. Effective treaty implementation is key, and questions remain around key issues such as arms sales to human-rights pariah Saudi Arabia, which constitutes an egregious contravention of both the treaty’s spirit and specific obligations. If such sales continue after becoming a state party, Canada will find itself in non-compliance as soon as it joins the treaty.”

Ms. Arancha Hinojal Oyarbide, Chief Treaty Section, United Nations Office of Legal Affairs with H.E Mr. Marc-André Blanchard, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York, H.E Andrejs Pildegovics, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Latvia and Raluca Muresan, Control Arms (Right to left) Photo Credit: Control Arms

Indeed, while this is a welcome step forward for ATT universalization, Canada’s continued willingness to export billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite growing evidence of their use in the war in Yemen, raises concerns over the country’s commitment to applying the Treaty in all circumstances. In addition, the new law designed to bring Canadian military export policy in line with ATT obligations contains a massive loophole, in that it does not apply to exports to the US, Canada’s biggest customer.

Control Arms is delighted to welcome Canada fully into the Arms Trade Treaty family. At the same time, we call on Canada to follow fully the letter and spirit of the Treaty by refusing all transfers that would undermine international law and ensuring that the Treaty is applied to all Canadian exports of conventional arms, no matter who the recipient.

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