Cluster bomb treaty negotiator fears watered down bill

Canada's former chief negotiator on a treaty to rid the world of dangerous cluster munitions is urging the Harper government not to succumb to pressure to water down the treaty.

Disarmament negotiator urges Harper government not to give in to U.S. pressure

Canada's former chief negotiator on a treaty to rid the world of dangerous cluster munitions is urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper not to succumb to pressure to water down the treaty.

Earl Turcotte told Harper in a Feb. 10 letter that Canada's ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions "is long overdue."

This April 15, 2011 photo provided by Human Rights Watch shows a remnant tail section of a cluster bomb purportedly found in Misrata, Libya. Opposition forces claimed Gadhafi's forces used cluster bombs during the conflict in Libya, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. (AP Photo/Human Rights Watch)

Turcotte urged the prime minister to hang tough on the negotiating position that he helped craft as Canada's lead negotiator on the treaty.

Turcotte has warned that Canadian troops could be complicit in the deaths of innocent civilians if the government proceeds with weak recommendations.

The letter comes exactly one year after Turcotte ended a nearly 30-year public service career by resigning in protest from the Foreign Affairs Department over how the government planned to interpret a key provision of the convention.

"I believed at that time, and continue to believe that Canadian legislation would simply be inadequate, it would be too weak. It would not accurately reflect the commitments we made during negotiations of the convention," Turcotte said in an interview Wednesday.

"In my view, Canada will be isolated among the 111 signatory countries to the convention for our very weak interpretation of the prohibitions that are contained in the treaty. In fact, I think Canada's interpretation would simply be wrong in law as well as in spirit."

Legislation to ratify coming soon

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that the government would introduce legislation "shortly" that would "fully ratify the treaty."

"We believe that the convention is an important tool to protect civilians against the use of cluster munitions," Joseph Lavoie wrote in an email to the Canadian Press.

"Preparations are well underway for ratification."

Canada was one of more than 100 countries to sign the cluster bomb treaty in December 2008, but has yet to table legislation in Parliament to ratify it, unlike its speedy adoption of the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines in the late 1990s.

The convention would ban the use of wildly inaccurate "bomblets," the unexploded munitions that can lay dormant for years and end up maiming innocent civilians -- often children -- who happen upon them.

Turcotte has said he was removed as the government's chief negotiator in January 2011 because he ran afoul of his superiors after senior U.S. officials complained he was too aggressive in negotiations. The last decade of Turcotte's career was spent representing Canada on disarmament issues.

Before resigning, Turcotte registered a "conscientious objection" to his bosses on how the government had planned to interpret a key provision of the convention -- Article 21.

Baird and Defence Minister Peter MacKay refused to meet Turcotte.

Baird's chief of staff, Garry Keller, agreed to a meeting and said he would pass Turcotte's concerns to Baird.

"Canada, to this point, has acquitted itself very well with respect to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Even when there was significant lobbying by the United States against other NATO countries participating in the process, we did," said Turcotte.

But Turcotte said he is not optimistic that the "recommendations that were on the books a year ago were reconsidered" have been revised.