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A lesson in landmines

Canada has enjoyed a reputation for diplomacy ever since Lester B. Pearson came up with a novel solution – peacekeepers – for the Suez Crisis in 1956. We've also been recognized for our involvement in human rights issues, nuclear disarmament, and the International Criminal Court. But have our efforts made for a more peaceful world, or is the image of the "good diplomat" a convenient holdover from the days when Canada actually made a difference?

Sirens are sounding in a potato field at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. It's a simulation for a group of Grade 8 students learning about landmines. But in many parts of the world, the threat of mines is all too real. As CBC Radio reports, representatives from 70 countries, aid organizations and the UN have gathered in Ottawa for an international conference aimed at ridding the world of these dangerous tools of war.

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and its minister Lloyd Axworthy have been instrumental in organizing the conference. Just over a year later, 122 world representatives will meet again at a ceremony in the nation's capital to sign the Ottawa Convention -- a framework for dealing with the global issue of landmines.
• Land mines — either anti-personnel or anti-tank mines — are explosive devices which detonate when a footstep or a vehicle comes into contact with them. They are often buried under a layer of soil and are used as a tactic in combat situations. Mines are usually left behind after the conflict is over.
• About 10,00 to 15,000 people, most of them civilians, are killed or injured by land mines every year.

• The 1996 conference in Ottawa and subsequent discussions resulted in a document called the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. As of 2003, 146 countries had signed it and 131 have ratified it. The United States, Russia, China and about 45 other nations had not signed by 2003.
• Canadian forces began destroying their supply of land mines in 1997.

• The International Campaign to Ban Landmines was formed in 1992 as a coalition of human-rights organizations and other concerned groups. In 1997, the ICBL and its coordinator, Jody Williams, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Today the ICBL comprises over 1,100 groups in over 60 countries. Among them are demining, humanitarian, veterans', medical, arms control, and religious groups.

• Canada continues to play a leadership role in seeing that the Mine Ban Treaty of the Ottawa Convention is adopted and implemented by countries around the world. It has helped to organize regional conferences on landmines, contributed millions of dollars to mine action programs, and provided money and support to organizations such as the ICBL.
Medium: Radio
Program: Canada at Five
Broadcast Date: Oct. 1, 1996
Guest(s): Doug Blackburn
Host: Barbara Smith
Reporter: Jennifer Fry
Duration: 1:51
Photo: Landmine explosion in South Lebanon, June 2006. Photo courtesy of United Nations Mine Action Service.

Last updated: December 4, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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