Published on: Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Professor Virgil Wiebe testified before the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on Nov. 26, speaking out against a controversial clause in Canada’s Bill C-6 that would allow Canadian Forces to use or direct the use of cluster bombs in certain situations despite the nation’s participation in an international treaty that prohibits their use.
Along with 112 other countries, Canada is a signatory on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs. Bill C-6 would allow Canadian Forces to participate in their usage when in joint operates with non-treaty nations — such as the United States, China, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan and Brazil — in an effort to exempt individual service members from criminal liability for their acts in coalition activities.
A cluster bomb is designed to kill personnel; destroy vehicles, runways and power lines; disperse chemical or biological weapons; or scatter land mines. Human rights activists argue that a large number of cluster bombs fail to explode on impact and can lie dormant for years, sometimes being mistaken by children as toys or Easter eggs long after a conflict has ended. Activists also argue that the wide area covered by a cluster bomb can unintentionally impact civilians.
Wiebe argued that the clause in Bill C-6 goes well beyond what was contemplated in the treaty, and that existing Canadian law already protects Canadian Forces against prosecution for the inadvertent or unknowing participation in banned activities.
“Some service members who have participated in the use of cluster munitions in the past, such as in Vietnam and Laos, have discovered the lasting impact on civilians,” Wiebe said. “They have expressed great remorse and sought to make amends by dedicating their lives to clearing unexploded remnants of war.”
Wiebe said there are good proposals for fixing Bill C-6, and suggests that, even if the bill is passed and Canadian service members are protected against persecution for their involvement with cluster bombs, Canada as a nation still may be held responsible for its perceived violation of the treaty.
Wiebe, director of clinical education at the School of Law, was joined in his testimony by the Honorable Malcolm Fraser, former prime minister of Australia.