Comment: MPs need courage in the face of cluster munitions

As two girls growing up in Victoria, neither of us has heard about cluster munitions.

Also known as cluster bombs, these are large bombs that scatter dozens or hundreds of smaller sub-munitions across an area the size of two or more football fields. Not all the sub-munitions explode on impact, creating de-facto minefields that can remain for years after the conflict.

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Nowadays, through our respective jobs as the program officer at Mines Action Canada in Ottawa, and as the deputy program manager with a humanitarian demining organization in Afghanistan, we are all too aware of the dangers these weapons pose and the efforts that have been made to ban them. Working with the men and women from around the world who have committed their lives to ridding the world of cluster bombs has been a lesson in courage for both of us.

Our colleagues were instrumental in the creation of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty is a total global ban on cluster munitions currently supported by 111 countries.

We have colleagues who have survived horrific injuries and the loss of family members to become tireless advocates for the treaty to ensure that no one else suffers the way they have. The courage demonstrated by those who overcome pain, stigma and naysayers to share their difficult stories on the world stage is staggering.

We also have colleagues who work every day to locate and destroy cluster munitions in countries that experienced bombing campaigns during conflict.

In Afghanistan, cluster bombs were used by both the Soviet forces during the 1979-89 war, as well as by the U.S. and NATO forces during the military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001. Cluster munitions such as the PFM-1, which resembles a green butterfly, or the M74, which is a mysterious-looking, shiny silver ball, are littered across the country, and are often picked up by curious children who think they are toys — with horrific consequences, including the loss of their hands and eyes.

Afghan deminers and explosive ordnance disposal experts have to summon their courage every day and enter extremely dangerous areas to find and destroy cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war. The courageous work of our colleagues clearing sub-munitions in countries like Afghanistan prevents future injuries and deaths caused by these vile weapons.

After watching our colleagues face danger and physical pain to make the world a safer place, we were disappointed to see the complete lack of courage displayed by the Canadian government regarding legislation to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Bill S-10 contains huge loopholes that could permit Canadians to assist other countries with the use of cluster munitions even after we have banned them — meaning more children losing their hands and eyes. For a country that has never used or produced cluster munitions, it is shocking that Canada is attempting to pass such weak legislation.

As the House of Commons debated Bill S-10 late on Tuesday night, the government frequently cited “the reality” that some of our allies have not yet banned cluster munitions as a rationale for accepting flawed and dangerous draft legislation. The purpose of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and Bill S-10 is to create a new reality, one where our friends and colleagues do not have to risk their lives to clear land and no one falls victim to these horrific weapons. Creating a new reality without cluster munitions requires a level of courage and leadership from the Canadian government thus far lacking in Bill S-10.

The Canadian government has a choice with Bill S-10: to either show some courage and leadership by revising the bill, or to implicitly condone the continued use of cluster munitions by hiding behind platitudes and the status quo.

As Canadians we have not had to suffer the gruesome consequences of cluster munitions in our communities, and no one else should have to either. That is why a complete ban, as stated in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, is so important.

Erin Hunt is the program officer at Mines Action Canada in Ottawa. Megan Latimer is the deputy program manager for Danish Demining Group in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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