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Canada pushed to sign UN arms trade treaty after reports of U.S. support

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is pictured in Toronto on Sept. 22, 2013. Canada is facing renewed pressure to join a landmark United Nations treaty that regulates the lucrative arms trade after reports that the United States is signing on.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Canada is facing renewed pressure to join a landmark United Nations treaty that regulates the lucrative arms trade after reports that the United States is signing on.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will sign the Arms Trade Treaty on Wednesday during the United Nations General Assembly.

The NDP sent Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird a letter last week asking that Canada join 85 countries and sign the treaty.

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But Paul Dewar, the party's foreign affairs critic, said the New Democrats have received no reply.

Mr. Dewar described the reluctance to sign the treaty as one more example of the Harper government pulling Canada out of the UN's multilateral process.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in New York this week – a multitude of cabinet ministers in tow – for the UN General Assembly. Mr. Harper will not deliver a speech there, but he has other events scheduled.

Mr. Baird will address the assembly on Canada's behalf on Monday.

Canada initially supported the arms trade treaty, but earlier this spring, Mr. Baird suggested the government would have to study further whether to adopt it.

Mr. Baird has said there is a potential link between signing the treaty and Canada's now-abolished long-gun registry.

The government is taking its time to consult with "organizations, industry, and individuals as well as the provinces and territories" before making a decision, Mr. Baird's spokesman Rick Roth said in an e-mail.

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Mr. Roth stopped short of providing a timeline, however.

"If properly done, an arms trade treaty can help limit the worldwide trade in illicit arms," he said. "At the same time, 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."

Mr. Dewar dismissed the government's argument that the treaty would affect gun owners in Canada.

"No one believes that," he said. "If we see, in the case of the United States, they're going to sign the treaty where there's very strong protection of gun owners rights, if they can sign it, why in God's name can't Canada?"

Amnesty International welcomed news of the U.S. signing the treaty, calling it a milestone on the way to curbing the flow of arms and the atrocities they fuel, including the current violence in Syria.

"The U.S. is the world's largest arms dealer, but has so far had a mixed record of suspending arms supplies on human rights grounds," Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary general, said in a statement.

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"The world is now waiting for China and Russia to match the U.S. commitment."

The Arms Trade Treaty requires countries to report on arms exports, to help ensure they do not go to banned countries that commit human-rights abuses, or transfer them to abusive factions and terror groups. It is not clear what impact the treaty would have in curbing the global arms trade, estimated at between $60-billion and $85-billion annually. Much will depend on which countries ratify it, and how stringently it is implemented.

More than 85 countries have signed the treaty to date, but it will not take effect until 50 nations have ratified it.

The Obama administration announced it would sign the treaty in June over the objections of critics who fear it will undermine constitutional rights.

The treaty covers battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.

With a report from the Associated Press

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