Canada Accedes to U.N. Arms Trade Treaty – Bad News, Good News, Or Nothing At All?

What does Canada’s “accession” to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty mean for Canada’s shooting community? The answer to that question really depends on whom you ask and what their agenda is.

If the agenda is pro-gun fundraising then the U.N. 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 U.N. Arms Trade Treaty “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 U.N. Arms Trade Treaty?

The short answer is no. Canada already implements and complies with all but one of the articles of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion even admits this in his own press release issued on June 30, 2016:

“Canada already meets the vast majority of ATT obligations. In fact, the ATT 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 A.T.T. 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 A.T.T., 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 do is have this formally codified in Canadian law. As Minister Dion says, our complying is “neither explicit nor formalized in our current export criteria.”

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 N.A.T.O. 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 U.S.A., we are hardly alone.

Article 2 of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty says:

  1. 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 the 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 Arms Trade Treaty in order to protect the interests of Canada’s lawful firearms community.

The U.N. ignored our nation’s request to respect the interests of Canadians and refused to remove civilian firearms from the language of the Arms Trade 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 in his press release, 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 U.N. and Minister Dion is this: If the Arms Trade Treaty does not and will not affect civilian firearms then why does the United Nations insist they be included in the A.T.T.? 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 Arms Trade 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 two most important words in that section for Canadian gun owners are “export” and “import” and while we’re at it, let’s include “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.

“Trans-shipment?” 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.
Article 5 (3) Each State Party is encouraged to apply the provisions of this Treaty to the broadest range of conventional arms.

There are many more aspects to the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty that must be explored by Canadian gun owners if we’re to understand exactly what this Treaty could mean for us. And we will explore each of those areas in upcoming editions of CSSA E-News.

So stay tuned.

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