Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act

December 2, 2020

Honourable colleagues, I rise today to speak on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act.

With this bill, the government proposes to amend the act to add four new categories of controlled chemicals banned by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This bill would add nerve agents of the Novichok group to the list of banned chemicals.

When the bill’s sponsor, Senator Coyle, spoke to the proposed legislation, she noted the proposed amendments will come into line with those presented last year to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Those amendments to the convention were proposed based on a joint Canadian, Dutch and American initiative to ban this new category of controlled chemicals.

Senator Coyle noted the principal reason this initiative was made by Canada and our American and Dutch allies was to respond to the use of this class of chemicals in an attack on several individuals in Salisbury, United Kingdom.

Russian operatives were implicated in that attack and the class of chemicals alleged to have been used are produced in the Russian Federation.

I do not believe that anyone in this chamber or, indeed, within the Parliament of Canada will object to the legislation that we have before us.

In her remarks, Senator Coyle described in some detail the history of the Chemical Weapons Convention and, in general, the revulsion which most countries in the international community have had towards the use of chemical weapons.

Over the years, there has been debate about the scope of the convention and over what chemicals should be included within it. However, the general importance of the convention itself has not been disputed. Indeed, 193 states declare that they adhere to the convention, including China and Russia.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons itself confirmed in 2017 that Russia had destroyed 39,967 metric tons of chemical weapons.

Evidently, the Novichok class of chemicals was not included in that destruction because they were not covered under the agreement. Therefore, I think we can all agree that the provisions as used in this legislation should be enacted.

However, I do believe that we need to be realistic about what this enactment will achieve. That realism might then point us to more concrete action, since this bill by itself will not solve the issue.

The government has argued that this legislation points to the fact:

. . . that Canada is taking a strong stance for a safer world by controlling dangerous chemicals under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act.

Again, I certainly agree that this legislation is expressive of an important sentiment. However, by itself, this measure is probably unlikely to prevent a single similar attack.

As Senator Coyle noted in her speech just recently, a Russian opposition leader was allegedly subjected to a very similar attack to the one that occurred in the U.K. in 2018.

This suggests that adherence to these provisions is unlikely by states that simply choose not to abide by them. Moreover, a ban in Canada itself is entirely symbolic.

The chemicals that we are discussing in this legislation are evidently not produced in Canada. Senator Coyle stated in her remarks that the measure included in the legislation “. . . imposes no new burdens upon Canada, Canadian citizens or Canadian industry.”

In other words, this legislation does not cost us anything. That might be good news, but it also suggests that we should not be overly optimistic about our achievements.

This class of chemical weapons is produced in Russia, and, as of today, Russia has no intention of changing its practices. In fact, while Russia initially grudgingly supported these amendments to the convention, they are no longer in agreement.

It is unclear to me how the proposed ban will impact what Russia or other countries choose to do. In general, what concerns me in relation to this legislation is how the government is proposing to enforce the broader objectives related to the legislation.

I hope that the Senate committee that plans to examine this legislation will be able to ask for specifics from the government on that matter. Virtue signalling through domestic legislation is all well and good, but I would presume that every senator wants tangible results that actually prevent future attacks.

Therefore, what I am most interested in learning from the ministers and officials are the practical measures that Canada will pursue to prevent similar attacks. For instance, how do we plan to engage our allies on this matter in the years ahead? How do we plan to convince other countries, most notably Russia, that such chemicals must be controlled? How far are we prepared to go to impose sanctions on countries that violate these provisions? Are we prepared to sacrifice other interests in order to achieve the objectives of the legislation that we have before us today?

It is quite easy to declare that Canada is, as the government has claimed, taking a strong stance for a safer world. It is quite another thing to put in place a plan of action to make that happen.

Therefore, I support this legislation in principle. However, questions do remain and I would hope these will be addressed at committee and subsequently in the other place. Thank you.

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