Mandate Letters Set a Promising Tone

Right before the holidays, the Prime Minister's Office published the mandate letters for all the Cabinet Ministers and from Mines Action Canada's perspective there are a couple very interesting items in these letters. With Parliament resuming in less than two weeks, let's dig into the mandate letters and see what we can find.

First is the big news, the mandate letter for Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, includes instruction to "advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems". You read that right - Canada's Foreign Minister as to help a ban on the development and use of killer robots. That is pretty big news. Canada has been waffling on the issue of autonomous weapons for years now. In diplomatic talks at the United Nations, Canada would occasionally give a statement on the importance of international humanitarian law and the role of weapons reviews in preventing the use of indiscriminate weapons but no one would consider Canada a leader on this issue. Now Canada needs to join the likes of Austria, Chile, and Brazil in not only calling for a ban on autonomous weapons systems but actively working for one. This addition to the mandate letter has definitely been noticed internationally and states will be looking to see a change in Canada's position at the United Nations. We will be watching closely to see how Global Affairs implements this instruction from the mandate letter. We will be looking to see if Minister Champagne is working with his counterparts in National Defense, Innovation, Science, and Industry, Public Safety and Justice to formulate a strategy to bring Canada and the world towards a ban on autonomous weapons systems. Canadian diplomats will need to have the time and resources needed to make this ban a reality but with support and political will it can be done in the next two to three years.

Next up, both Minister Champagne and Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, have instructions related to the women, peace and security agenda in their mandate letters. This is more great news for our work. Mines Action Canada knows that humanitarian disarmament and the women, peace and security agenda are closely linked. Better implementation of disarmament treaties like the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines protects girls and women in conflict affected areas while better implementation of the women, peace and security agenda increases women's participation in disarmament decision making resulting in better outcomes for us all. 

Finally, there is a strong focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and the effectiveness of international assistance in the mandate letter for Minister of International Development, Karina Gould. That is important because there are significant links between the Sustainable Development Goals and disarmament, whether it is nuclear disarmament or clearance of landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war. Landmine clearance alone is linked to progress on 12 Sustainable Development Goals. The focus on effective international assistance is welcome because we know that supporting mine action (clearance of contaminated land and victim assistance) provides exceptional value for money. Landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war are lethal barriers to development so support to mine action allows all other development work to happen. When land is cleared and survivors are assisted, communities can safely grow food, refugees and displaced persons can return home and trade can flow smoothly. A recent report showed that for every dollar invested into mine action in Lebanon resulted in an economic benefit of $4.15. If Canada is looking for development projects that promote the Sustainable Development Goals and exemplify effective international assistance, mine action is the way to go. Plus, we would be finishing what Canada started in 1997 with the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines. 

Based on these mandate letters, there is a lot of potential for Canada to resume its position as a champion of humanitarian disarmament and help make the world a safer place for us all. Let's hope the Ministers have the courage to see them though.