What does Canada’s “accession” to the UN Arms Trade Treaty mean for Canada’s shooting community? The answer to that question really depends on who you ask and what their agenda is. If the agenda is pro-gun fundraising then the UN Arms Trade Treaty is “the worst thing imaginable in the history of the world since the licensing of gun owners and the universal registration of firearms.” If the agenda is anti-gun, full implementation of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, then it “is absolutely benign and will not affect legitimate civilian gun ownership at all.” Of course, the real truth lies somewhere in between.
Let’s start with another important question first, and we’ll answer our primary question a little later. We’ll start by asking this: Before we spend a fortune in tax dollars limiting more rights and freedoms, is there a pressing and urgent need for Canada to join the UN Arms Trade Treaty?
The short answer is no. Canada already implements and complies with all but one of the articles of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion even admits this in his own press release issued on June 30, 2016: “Canada already meets the vast majority of Arms Trade Treaty obligations. In fact, the treaty was designed to bring other countries up to the type of high standard that Canada already applies through its robust export control regime: We already control the export of all treaty-relevant goods. We have measures in place to prevent diversion of the goods transferred. We comply with all explicit prohibitions listed in article 6 of the treaty. We already assess for the type of risks identified in the treaty, such as that an export could be used for terrorist activities or against peace and security or international human rights law. In fact, Canada fully complies with all 28 articles of the treaty but two: articles 7 (about export assessment criteria and over-riding risk test) and 10 (about brokering).”
Minister Dion is not completely forthright when he says Canada does not fully comply with Article 7. We already take all the factors described in the treaty into account. What we don’t have is this formally codified in Canadian law. As Minister Dion says our complying is “neither explicit nor formalized in our current export criteria.” But we already comply with Article 7. We simply don’t make an explicit reference to that compliance in Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act, something Minister Dion will address when he introduces legislation to change the Export and Import Permits Act later this year.
Dion goes on to say, “Today, Canada is the only NATO ally and only G7 partner not to have signed or ratified the treaty, the previous government claiming that it might affect domestic gun laws, which is completely and categorically untrue.”
This statement is only partially true. Yes, Canada is the only NATO ally and G7 nation who has not signed the treaty, but that’s where the truth ends. You see, when our greatest ally and most important partner, the United States, signed it, they did so under the express knowledge that the Senate would vote down its ratification. Which they did. And when Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with our friends in the US, we are hardly alone.
Article 2, Section 1 of the UN Arms Trade Treaty says: “This Treaty shall apply to all conventional arms within the following categories: Battle tanks; Armoured combat vehicles; Large-calibre artillery systems; Combat aircraft; Attack helicopters; Warships; Missiles and missile launchers; and Small arms and light weapons. Note that very last item of Article 2, Section 1: “h) Small arms and light weapons.”
Canada, under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, requested that civilian firearms specifically be removed from the treaty in order to protect the interests of Canada’s lawful firearms community. The UN ignored our nation’s request to respect the interests of Canadians and refused to remove civilian firearms from the language of the treaty. So the Harper government did what was right: it stood up for Canadian sovereignty and Canadian gun owners and refused to sign the treaty.
All Canadian rifles, semi-automatic or otherwise, all handguns and most shotguns fall into the broad category of “small arms and light weapons.” To claim, as Minister Dion does, that “the previous government claiming that it might affect domestic gun laws, which is completely and categorically untrue” is false according to Arms Trade Treaty Article 2.
The obvious question to both the UN and Minister Dion is this: If the Arms Trade Treaty does not and will not affect civilian firearms then why does the UN insist they be included in the treaty? It’s a valid question and one where Minister Dion is, to be polite, disingenuous with his answer.
But how does all this really affect Canadian gun owners? There are a number of ways, only some of which are apparent before Canada’s government finalizes how it will apply the full terms of the treaty.
We know the treaty applies to civilian firearms. Article 2 Section 2 states: “For the purposes of this Treaty, the activities of the international trade comprise export, import, transit, trans-shipment and brokering, hereafter referred to as ‘transfer.’”
The most important words in that section for us Canadian gun owner? Export, import, and trans-shipment. Should the American government refuse an export permit to an American firearm manufacturer then Canadian gun owners will no longer have access to those firearms. Should the Canadian government deny a Canadian importer of those firearms then, even with a US Export Permit in place, we will no longer have access to those firearms.
And “Trans-shipment?” Well, consider the following scenario: Beretta Italy sends sporting firearms to Beretta USA. Beretta Canada requests some of them for our market but Beretta USA cannot ship them to Canada without special permission because the End-User Certificate (EUC) filled out by Beretta Italy said “Beretta U.S.A. – Civilian.” This is just an example, you can think up ten more scenarios like that without breaking a sweat.
If those scenarios sound preposterous then you need only read the very first sentence of Article 5, Section 3. You will quickly realize it could happen in an instant with a single stroke of a bureaucratic pen: “Each State Party is encouraged to apply the provisions of this Treaty to the broadest range of conventional arms.”
A bigger question is why would we bother acceding to a treaty when we’re already doing what it asks? The answer is simple: accountability. Or perhaps more specifically, in the lack of accountability. To understand that statement you must understand two things: how the UN operates and how the Arms Trade Treaty operates.
First, the United Nations operates by consensus. The dictionary definition of consensus is “agreement in the judgment or opinion reached by a group as a whole.” In other words if the entire UN body cannot agree on an issue then they keep working to find common ground everyone can agree on.
Second, the United Nations operates by consensus except on the Arms Trade Treaty. In this singular case the Arms Trade Treaty requires only 75% of members present at a meeting to change the terms of that treaty. That’s right. On a 75% majority vote the UN can dictate law to all countries party to the Arms Trade Treaty. Now perhaps you see how lack of accountability plays into the hands of the government. “It’s not our fault! What could we do? The UN is making us do this!”
The institutionalized danger this presents is codified in Article 20 of the Arms Trade Treaty and comes in two parts. First, the terms under which this treaty may be rewritten and amended, defined in Article 20, Section 1: “Six years after the entry into force of this Treaty, any State Party may propose an amendment to this Treaty. Thereafter, proposed amendments may only be considered by the Conference of States Parties every three years.”
That sounds benign enough, right? Any member state can propose an amendment of any kind after the sixth year after the treaty comes into force and then every three years after that. A harmless provision, you say? Until you realize the membership of the United Nations, 192 of 195 nations in the world, is comprised of 130 dictatorships. Dictatorships typically aren’t interested in protecting the rights of citizens; their own or otherwise.
That deplorable number and the fact that consensus is not required is made worse by Article 20 Section 3: “The States Parties shall make every effort to achieve consensus on each amendment. If all efforts at consensus have been exhausted, and no agreement reached, the amendment shall, as a last resort, be adopted by a three-quarters majority vote of the States Parties present and voting at the meeting of the Conference of States Parties. For the purposes of this Article, States Parties present and voting means States Parties present and casting an affirmative or negative vote. The Depositary shall communicate any adopted amendment to all States Parties.”
Three issues scream out of this section: Consensus is NOT required, a 75% majority vote carries the amendment (any amendment!), and it is not even 75% of all signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty but 75% of those “present and voting.”
When two thirds of the nations of the world are dictatorships and only 75% of those that signed the Arms Trade Treaty and are “present and voting” are required to pass an amendment to the Treaty… well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to comprehend the disaster that potentially awaits us.
Casting Canada’s sovereignty to the wind is undoubtedly a poor idea. Placing Canada’s precious democracy in the hands of a 75% majority of some of the world’s worst brigands and bandits is positively treasonous. For these reasons and more, the previous government shunned the Arms Trade Treaty.
The CSSA calls upon the Hon. Stéphane Dion (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and the Trudeau government to re-examine, re-evaluate and to re-think the decision to sign this oppressive treaty.