Second reading of Bill S-235, An Act to amend the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act (investments)Published on 13 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Bill S-235, An Act to amend the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act (investments). This bill may create provisions that would prohibit Canadian financial institutions from investing in entities that breached any prohibitions relating to cluster munitions, explosive submunitions and explosive bomblets.
Before beginning, I would like to thank Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Hubley for speaking so articulately on Bill S-235 and for helping to truly put an end to any part that Canada might play in supporting the use of cluster munitions. As you know, honourable senators, over the course of history there have been weapons that are so horrifying and that result in so many casualties that the world came together and decided to put an end to their use.
Honourable senators, I want to share a personal story with you. When I was in Silla, which is a town near the border between Turkey and Syria, I met a 25-year-old woman who told me about how her daughter had died. When her daughter was three years old, she saw a shiny orange ball in their garden. She picked it up and tripped while she was running towards the house with it. That orange ball was a bomb.
In this tragedy, the young child was killed immediately and the mother lost all of her limbs. Before the blast, the mother was a teacher and a very active woman in the community. Now, this single mother sits on a wheelchair and depends on others even to feed, clean or dress her.
That is why Canada has passed laws prohibiting cluster munitions. However, we now have a situation where Canada prohibits the use of cluster munitions, yet we still allow people to invest in the companies that make them.
Where companies produce mustard and nerve gases, land mines and biological weapons, these companies make their munitions some of the worst weapons that fall into this category and have been deemed too inhumane for war. These weapons lead to cruel deaths or potentially kill large numbers of civilians who have done no harm and have no desire to participate in conflict.
Cluster munitions are one of those weapons. Cluster munitions include weapons that are designed to carry many smaller munitions inside of them, called submunitions or bomblets. These weapons are usually dropped from the air so that they can detonate while falling and rain their submunitions over the ground below them. A single bomb can cover an entire square kilometre in submunitions.
These weapons are at their most dangerous when they fail. An estimated 20 per cent of all submunitions from the original munition do not detonate upon reaching the ground, leaving them there to act like a land mine for unsuspecting victims walking through the area.
Each submunition is tiny, being about the size of a tennis ball. However, upon detonation, one can send hundreds hot shrapnel shards flying into their victims. As a result, cluster bombs can even be deadlier than land mines.
Thanks to these features, cluster munitions have become known for the chilling reason that they are able to kill large numbers of civilians. As Senators Ataullahjan and Hubley mentioned, 98 per cent of cluster munition victims are civilians. Worse yet, many of these civilian victims are children.
This happens because of the munitions’ appearance. Most submunitions look like small metal balls, usually between the size of a tennis ball and a baseball. To the children who see them, these submunitions look like toys. Children are curious. They want to pick up objects and see what they are. With cluster munitions, this curiosity leads to tragedies. A shocking two of every five cluster bomb victims are children. To truly demonstrate how horrifying these weapons are, I would like to share this story of cluster munition victims.
This is a story of Rum Vet, a Cambodian farmer. When Rum and her brother were young, they were both given the job of working in the nearby fields, despite the fact that many active submunitions were still in the area after the Cambodian Civil War. Rum and her family worked in the field because that was their livelihood. If they did not continue to farm, they would not be able to live or to eat.
In 1992, Rum’s brother stepped on one of these submunitions, instantly killing him and leaving Rum legless from the right knee down. Despite the tragedy she faced, Rum still farms the fields every day, knowing that she might encounter another cluster munition.
Rum is far from the only person who lives in fear of cluster bombs like this. U.S. bombing data shows that 26 submunitions were dropped in Cambodia during the Cambodian Civil War. Currently, an estimated 6 million to 7 million of them are active and could repeat this kind of tragedy.
Other countries face even worse circumstances. During U.S. bombing missions between 1964 and 1973, 270 million submunitions were discharged across Laos. Out of these bombs, a stunning 80 million failed to detonate. According to a 2009 survey, this has led to the death or maiming of 50,000 Laotian civilians.
These are far from the only examples of cluster munition use. Other countries, like Cambodia, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Libya, South Sudan, Vietnam and Yemen all have been affected by cluster munitions, forcing their inhabitants to live in fear of being killed by submunitions.
Thankfully, Canada has taken decisive action to eliminate the use of these weapons and to reduce the harm that they have done. Between 1996 and 2011, Canada provided consistent funding to help efforts to remove the 80 million active submunitions from Laos. In 2008, Canada joined over 107 other countries and signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, transfer and stockpiling of all cluster munitions.
By 2015, Canada followed through with its commitment, through Bill S-10, An Act to Implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In fact, the bill went far beyond even what Canada had agreed to in the original treaty. Rather than simply prohibiting the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions, we also took action to help the victims of these terrible weapons.
After the bill was passed, Canada also provided rehabilitation to survivors of cluster munitions and even provided assistance to efforts to clear areas of submunitions.
I’m proud of our history of eliminating and undoing the damage done by cluster munitions. However, honourable senators, there is still work to be done if we wish to truly eliminate any role that Canada plays in the use of cluster bombs.
While the “Act to Implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions” may have stopped Canadian financial institutions from directly contributing to the creation of cluster bombs, there are still loopholes in our laws that allow for to us play an indirect role.
According to PAX, a Dutch peace group, between June 2012 and 2016, Canadian institutions invested $565 million in companies that produce cluster bombs. That makes up approximately 2 per cent of the entire world’s investment in these companies. It also makes Canada one of the 28 countries in the entire world that has failed to create legislation prohibiting this kind of investment.
When Canada’s financial institutions invest in producers of cluster munitions, we cannot say that Canada is truly a leader in ending the production of these weapons.
Thankfully, Bill S-235, whose sponsor is Senator Ataullahjan, takes decisive action to put this practice to an end by amending section 6 of the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act. It adds a new subsection to the act, prohibiting Canadian financial institutions from investing in entities that have violated any of the other prohibitions in the current Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act.
Bill S-235 also closes other existing loopholes by prohibiting Canadian financial institutions from loaning funds to these entities and even prevents them from acting as a guarantor for their loans. By accomplishing this, Bill S-235 effectively seals any parts to funding the continued use of cluster munitions.
Before concluding, I would like to share one final story with you. This is one of a small child who was nearly killed by cluster bombs.
Nabih Bzieh from Lebanon was only a baby when cluster munitions were being used in Lebanon in 2006. However, many years later, his life would be changed by their use. Like many others, a single submunition from a cluster munition did not detonate upon hitting the ground. Instead, it remained active for many years.
Hassan, Nabih’s twin, came across the submunition after going to play and swim with his twin brother and cousins. When Hassan picked up the submunition, hot shrapnel covered his face and tore open his abdomen. By the time that rescue teams had reached the group, the children were in critical condition.
When the children arrived at the hospital, it took an entire hospital team of trained medics just to keep them alive.
Honourable senators, this is the horror that is caused by cluster munitions that have been used in countless countries across the world. There is simply no excuse for a Canadian financial institution to put its money in entities that would allow for their continued use. Cluster weapons are simply inhumane. This is why Bill S-235 has been created: to finally stop these kinds of investments.
Honourable senators, in conclusion, I want to share something. Senator Kenny, Senator Black and I had the privilege of visiting the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Cold Lake. We were invited by Minister Sajjan and Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. I would like to thank them both for this extraordinary opportunity, as I also had the privilege of working with Lieutenant-General Hood in Darfur.
When I was in Cold Lake, I learned a lot about the intricacies of the Royal Canadian Air Force and about the rules of engagement in detail. I asked many questions about cluster munitions, and I was told by all the air force fighter pilots that they are particularly trained on cluster munitions by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Honourable senators, they are trained that they are never ever to use cluster munitions. Cluster munitions are among the worst of inhumane weapons, and it is our responsibility to work toward their eventual elimination.
If our men and women, who risk their lives on our behalf, are prohibited from using cluster munitions, then I agree with Senator Ataullahjan that we should also prohibit investing in cluster munitions.
Thank you very much.