Questions about Canada's automatic weapons gift to Afghanistan

Canada is helping to train the Afghan National Army (ANA) to become a disciplined security force that has the capacity to support Afghan stability and protect the people of Afghanistan. The political context in Afghanistan is still such that it remains rather a long way from reaching that goal, but it is important to prepare security forces for that day, and that takes disciplined skills training, the development of a culture of respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and appropriate equipment.

If even a small part of that equipment is to come from Canada it needs to be vetted through the meticulous application of export controls consistent with Canadian policy and international standards. Before we can know whether that responsibility has been met in the transfer of automatic rifles to Afghanistan, answers to several questions are needed.

1. Does the transfer conform to the requirement, in Canadian legislation, that the export of automatic firearms is prohibited to states not on the Automatic Firearms Country Control List (AFCCL)?

The Export and Import Permits Act is clear that automatic rifles (which are prohibited firearms under subsection 84.1 of the Criminal Code) may be exported only to countries on the AFCCL.[i] For a country to be added to the list it must have "an intergovernmental defence, research, development and production arrangement" with Canada.[ii]

There is no apparent provision in the Act to exempt direct Government-to-Government transfer. Indeed, when Canada transferred surplus C-5 fighter aircraft to Botswana, it had to be added to the AFCCL before the deal could go through because the C-5s were equipped with automatic weapons (20 mm cannons)[iii] - of course, just what might be involved in a Canada-Botswana "defence, research, development and production arrangement" is another matter.

Foreign Affairs officials have so far not responded to inquiries about how the AFCCL requirement functions in the case of the automatic firearms transferred to Afghanistan - since Afghanistan is certainly not on the AFCCL.

2. What provisions have been made to ensure that the C-7s will be under effective inventory control in Afghanistan and that diversion will be prevented?

Very few illegal guns start out that way. Guns legally transferred to places where inventory control is weak, and all reports about the current Afghan National Army suggest that the description applies, invariably end up being diverted in large numbers to unauthorized users or into a black market. A September 2006 report from the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction "charged that the Department of Defense transferred hundreds of thousands of pistols, assault rifles and machine guns to Iraqi security forces without recording serial numbers or establishing any other mechanism for accountability."[iv]

Similarly, many of the arms supplied to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan before and during the early stages of the war launched against Afghanistan in 2001 have made their way into the hands of armed militias and individuals. Indeed, according to Oxfam International there could be as many as10 million small arms circulating in Afghanistan, a country of 23 million people.[v]Whatever the true number, the legal status of most of these weapons is at best ambiguous and illegal armed groups are a threat to constitutional authority throughout the country. Any supplier that decides to add still more weapons to that super-saturated small arms environment had better be in a strong and confident position to ensure that none of them are diverted to exacerbate the extraordinary challenge that small arms already present to a country not short on challenges.

3. Has Canada entered into a formal and verifiable agreement with Afghanistan to require that the arms which the C-7 are replacing will be destroyed and prevented from cascading down to illicit users?

Even more difficult than assuring ongoing ANA control over the new C-7s will be preventing the AK-47s which the C-7s replace from drifting into the small arms supermarket that flourishes in Afghanistan. There have even been reports of warlords linked to the Northern Alliance selling some of their current surpluses to the Taliban.[vi] The urgent objective is now to collect those widely circulating weapons, not to add to their number.

In the 2001 UN Small Arms Program of Action, Canada signed on to a political commitment to ensure that whenever new arms are provided, there is an obligation to ensure that the old arms which become surplus are responsibly disposed of, "preferably through destruction."[vii] Of course, 2500 new weapons is a small number in the Afghanistan scheme of things, but the principle is fundamental and the Department of National Defence needs to explain the arrangements it has made to prevent cascading.[viii]

4. What assessment has the Department of Foreign Affairs made to ensure that the transfer conforms to its human rights guideline for arms transfers?

The current guideline does not prohibit the sale of weapons to states of significant human rights violations; rather it is designed to prevent such transfers if there is a significant risk that the particular weapons involved will be used against civilians. On the surface at least, that would seem to be a serious risk in this instance.

Automatic weapons are obviously designed to be used against people, and human rights organizations report abuses by Afghan security forces. Since the rifles are going to the ANA Brigade that Canada supports, we have to assume that any misuse issues will be addressed. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to understand how Foreign Affairs has assessed the risk.

5. How has Foreign Affairs dealt with the Canadian policy guideline against the supply of arms to countries engaged in armed conflict or where such conflict is imminent?

Obviously, Canada is directly engaged in the Afghan conflict, and thus it would be rather strange for Canada to prohibit arms transfers to the Armed Forces of the very state for which we are providing security assistance. On the other hand, we do need to hear from Foreign Affairs how it understands the relevance of this particular arms transfer principle. The proposed international arms trade treaty states this principles in slightly different terms - as a prohibition on arms transfers that risk undermining the national and regional security situation.[ix] Here too it would be useful for Foreign Affairs to explain the relevance of this particular guideline.[x] Is it irrelevant only in this case, or has there been a policy shift which regards the guideline more broadly irrelevant?

6. Is Ottawa hoping that the donation of 2500 C-7s will be followed-up by sales of much larger quantities of these Canadian-built weapons?

Not all agree that the introduction of C-7s into the ANA is wise. David Pugliese's Ottawa Citizen Blog helpfully elaborates on the arguments.[xi]ANA soldiers are accustomed to AK-47s, they are the weapons of choice of the region, they are reportedly easy to use and require less maintenance and cleaning to keep them reliable in the dust and sand of Afghanistan. The C-7s, on the other hand, require much more extensive care and maintenance for them to work effectively. Why, in a projected Army of 50-70,000, introduce 2500 guns that require special training and different ammunition from the primary weapon, the AK-47?

Or does DND know something we don't, namely that these 2500 C-7s are seedlings that are expected to sprout into much larger shipments for sale and profit?

[i] Import Export Permits Act, Section 7.(2):

"The Minister may not issue a permit under subsection (1) to export any thing referred to in any of paragraphs 4.1( a) to ( c) [prohibited weapons], or any component or part of such a thing, that is included in an Export Control List unless

( a) the export is to a country included in an Automatic Firearms Country Control List; and

( b) the prohibited weapon or component or part thereof is exported to the government of, or a consignee authorized by the government of, that country."

[iii] Ken Epps, "The Automatic Firearms Country Control List and Canada's firearms exports," The Ploughshares Monitor, Spring 2006, volume 27, no. 1 (

[iv] Susan Waltz, " US Policy on Small Arms Transfers:

A Human Rights Perspective,"Working Paper no. 43, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, 13 October 2007(

or through the Council of Foreign Relations,

[vi] Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif , "The Northern Alliance may supply arms to Taliban, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, March 12, 2006 (

[vii] "Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, 2001, UN Document A/CONF.192/15 ,Section II, Para 18

[viii] Afghanistan: Where the rule by the gun continues, IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (

[ix] Elaborated in Ernie Regehr, Canadaand the Arms Trade Treaty, Canadian Institute of International Affairs (Vol. 64, No. 6),

[x] The current guideline promises to "closely control" exports to countries "that are involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities." Report on Exports of Military Goods from Canada 2003-2005 (

[xi] David Pugliese, "Is Giving C-7s to the Afghan National Army the Right Move?" Defence Watch (OttawaCitizen.Com),

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