Canada doesn't need a boot for cluster bombs

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Photo: flickr/SchuminWeb

Almost five years ago, Canada signed a new treaty banning cluster munitions to end the unacceptable harm caused by these weapons. Cluster munitions are large bombs that release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions over an area the size of a football field. They harm civilians both at the time of use when they are dispersed over a wide area and after the attack as a number of submunitions fail to explode becoming de facto landmines.

Over 110 countries, most of NATO, have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Canada has never used cluster munitions and our stockpiles are being destroyed, but we have not implemented the Convention.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is currently studying Bill C-6, An Act to Implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was Bill S-10 before prorogation. The draft text contains many loopholes that could let Canada circumvent the prohibitions to which we have agreed, including one that will allow Canadian personnel to ask others to use this banned weapon.

That loophole about asking other countries to use cluster munitions reminds me of the Safeway parking lot where high school classmates tried to circumvent laws they didn’t like.

To really understand how a loophole in draft legislation could remind me of a shopping centre’s parking lot, I have to explain this particular parking lot. The shopping centre in question had a coffee shop, a video store, a Safeway grocery store and a government liquor store. To some of my classmates the Safeway parking lot was not just a place to leave your car while picking up groceries; it was the staging ground for an illicit but tantalizing quest.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, some of my peers could be found lurking in the parking lot approaching shoppers asking for a "boot" in the hopes of meeting that mythical stranger of legal drinking age who would go into the liquor store and buy alcohol on their behalf. Both the police and the centre’s security try to curtail the practice, but even to this day, you can occasionally find teens asking strangers to buy them beer in the Safeway parking lot.

At first glance, minors trying to get beer and an international treaty banning a weapon because it causes unacceptable harm to civilians seem completely unrelated, however, upon taking a closer look at Bill C-6, one can start to see the similarities.

In both cases, the prohibition is quite clear: no alcohol for minors and no production, stockpiling, use or assistance with use of cluster munitions for states that have joined the Convention.

In both cases, the prohibition does not apply to a select group: adults who have reached the legal drinking age or countries that have not yet joined the convention on cluster munitions.

In both cases, attempts are made to get around the prohibition by asking others to commit prohibited acts: either by waiting in the Safeway parking lot for a boot or through Section 11 of Bill C-6 which allows Canadian personnel to "expressly request" the use of cluster munitions by other countries not bound by the Convention.

There is little doubt that asking for a boot in the Safeway parking lot or being a boot is illegal, morally problematic and potentially dangerous, so I find it very disturbing to see draft legislation that would allow our personnel to ask another country to be their cluster munitions "boot."

As a Canadian, I expect that when Canada signs an international treaty to protect civilians during conflict, Canada will live up to the letter and spirit of the treaty. I believe our government does not mean to use national legislation to circumvent a key prohibition in the Convention. Now that our MPs are reviewing the bill, I trust that they will work together to #fixthebill and to make it clear that Canada will not be lurking around international humanitarian law’s parking lot.  

Photo: flickr/SchuminWeb

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