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Where do the weapons come from that are used in armed conflict and human rights abuses around the world? It is likely they’ve been exported from the United States, the number one arms exporter in the world, or Russia, who comes in second. But they could have similarly been exported from Canada, who ranks as the fifteenth international arms exporter.
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, wants Canada to hold itself to a higher standard. In a speech on February 8, 2018, to the country’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee, Freeland expressed Canada’s plans to join the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
Taking effect in December 2014, the ATT was established for the purpose of regulating the international trade of arms, ranging from artillery and tanks to small handguns. By increasing responsibility, transparency, and accountability, the treaty aims at reducing incidences of unregulated and irresponsible trading of arms to undemocratic countries plagued by human rights abuses. The ultimate goal is to therefore end the prolongment of conflict.
Freeland stated that Canada will not export arms to countries if there is substantial risk of human rights violations. This means that current governmental regulations will have to change, because as of now, they are only concerned with general risks that might arise from a sale.
Although Canada seems to be moving forward, Freeland’s announcement of joining the ATT has come with criticism. Back in 2015, the Conservative government drafted a 15$ billion deal for the export of light-armoured vehicles (LAV) to Saudi Arabia. Later in 2016, the Liberal government finalized the deal, which was met with much criticism. During Freeland’s recent speech to Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee, she explained that her department found no evidence that the LAVs exported to Saudi Arabia had been used to violate human rights.
Moving forward, Canada will not breach any existing contracts for the export of arms, such as that between Canada and Saudi Arabia. Although nowhere near the powerhouse status of the US in defence exports, Canada still plays a role in the market.