To the bemusement of many career diplomats and most human rights groups, standing apart – alone and aloof – has become the Canadian government’s preferred modus operandi to the United Nations.
In fact, one of the few truly substantial differences between the Tories in power and their Grit predecessors has been their unconcealed animus towards most things UN-related. The organization, they seem to believe, is broken, inefficient, hypocritical, duplicitous and needlessly bureaucratic. Worse, this cradle for the international community allows far too much license to rogue nations, and not enough to democratic, peaceful ones.
They have a point. But the federal Conservative regime would not be the first government in the world to question the value of its country’s membership. The organization is as flawed, or virtuous, as are its fellow states. Canada’s role and opportunity has always been to engage by setting a moral example – something which, until recently, it has been demonstrably willing to do.
The Harper government’s decision to delay signing the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which seeks to regulate international shipments of conventional weapons worth as much as $70 billion a year, is lamentably ironic. While it laudably pledges $3-billion pledge to improve the welfare of mothers and children around the world, the unfettered arms trade decimates the very people the Department of Foreign Affairs would otherwise help.
Even the United States, with its lock-and-load gun culture, has signed on to the Treaty, making it the 91st country to do so. “We are talking about the kind of export controls that for decades have not diminished one iota our ability in the United States as Americans to exercise our rights under the constitution,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of his nation’s decision last week. “This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom. . . .Make no mistake, we would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution.”
Ottawa’s position suggests it is not as certain about the safeguards protecting this country’s gun owners. According to the Globe and Mail last week, “Rick Roth, a spokesman for (Foreign Affairs Minister John) Baird, said Ottawa is still studying whether joining the accord would have consequences for Canadians. “It is important that such a treaty not affect lawful and responsible firearms owners nor discourage the transfer of firearms for recreational uses such as sport shooting and hunting.”
That’s fair as far as it goes. But while the federal government waits, the arms trade continues its vile business in some of the world’s poorest nations.
In his book, Public Corruption; The Dark Side of Social Evolution, Robert Neild of Cambridge University observes, “It has been estimated that there are now about 500 million small arms and light weapons in circulation in the world, one for every twelve people. Gone long ago is the time when we Europeans could subdue other continents because we had firearms and the local peoples had not. In 1999 it was reported that an AK-47 assault rifle could be bought in Uganda for the price of a chicken.”
Amnesty International states on its website, “War crimes, unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights abuses have been committed around the world using a wide range of weapons, munitions and military and security equipment. These are often provided to perpetrators in almost unlimited supply, encouraging and prolonging unlawful violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, injured, raped and forced to flee from their homes as a result.”
Appallingly, says the organization, “Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of children under 18. . .are recruited into government armed forces, paramilitaries, civil militia and a variety of other armed groups. Often they are abducted at school, on the streets or at home. Others enlist ‘voluntarily’, usually because they see few alternatives.”
Like it or not, the UN is the proper deliberative body through which to combat such turpitude.
Notwithstanding its distaste for the organization, Ottawa should set an example and ratify the Treaty.