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The Automatic Firearms Country Control List and Canada's firearms exports.

The Automatic Firearms Country Control List (AFCCL) was created by the Canadian government 15 years ago as an instrument to control the export from Canada of automatic firearms. Although the government can too readily expand the number of countries that may receive Canadian automatic weapons, the AFCCL is nevertheless an innovative and effective export control tool. With improvements it could provide a model for other exporting states to follow.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Canadian government has required strict regulation of automatic weapons--those weapons that repeatedly fire by a single trigger action. In 1977 the Criminal Code of Canada prohibited the possession of automatic firearms by any group or individual other than members of Canadian military and police forces. As prohibited weapons, automatic weapons remain illegal for private use today. In 1991, however, the government passed Bill C-6 to amend the Criminal Code and the Export and Import Permits Act, both to permit Canadian industry to import and possess automatic weapons and to authorize the External Affairs Minister to approve exports and imports of automatic firearms.

Bill C-6 stemmed directly from the lobbying efforts of Canadian companies that wanted to export automatic weapons. Speaking to the Canadian Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs before final approval of the Bill, then International Trade Minister Michael Wilson referred to the "anomalous situation" of the Criminal Code and how it was "of particular concern to two Canadian companies, Diemaco of Kitchener and General Motors (Diesel Division) of London, Ontario." He went on to explain: "Diemaco is attempting to win a contract to sell its automatic firearms and other small arms to the Netherlands. General Motors has a contract to sell light armoured vehicles armed with automatic weapons to Saudi Arabia. Neither can proceed unless the anomalous situation ... is corrected" (Senate of Canada 1991, 2:8).

The opening clauses of Bill C-6 mandated the federal Cabinet (Governor in Council) to establish an "Automatic Firearms Country Control List." This became a list of states "with which Canada has an intergovernmental defence, research, development and production arrangement and to which the Governor in Council deems it appropriate to permit the export of a prohibited weapon." (1) The first AFCCL list contained the names of 13 countries: 10 NATO-member states, Australia, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia--the last the recipient of more than 1,500 Canadian-built light armoured vehicles since 1991.

States have been added to the AFCCL list as contracts or perceived markets for Canadian-exported automatic weapons emerged. In 2001, Botswana was added so that CF-5 fighter aircraft surplus to the Department of National Defence and equipped with 20 mm aircraft cannons could be legally exported to that southern African country. (The Order amending the AFCCL spoke of Botswana as "a well-governed and relatively wealthy Commonwealth member with a good human rights record, and good relations with its neighbours" [Canada Gazette 2001, 2865].) Greece and New Zealand were added to the AFCCL in 2002 so that, respectively, CF-5 fighters and light armoured vehicles equipped with automatic weapons might be shipped to the two countries. Most recently, in 2005 Finland, Latvia, Poland, and Portugal were also added to the list because of emerging markets in these countries, bringing the total current AFCCL membership to 20 states (see Table A).

Inclusion of a state on the list does not guarantee approval of exports of automatic weapons to that state, since all military export applications must be reviewed on a "case-by-case basis," but it does mean that if a state is not on the list it is denied any shipment of automatic weapons from Canada. The establishment of the list is thus an innovative and unique regulatory instrument. The AFCCL in effect turns the typical export control process on its head. Instead of the usual presumption that a state may receive Canadian military goods unless there are concerns that preclude such a transfer, the AFCCL establishes a presumption against exports of automatic weapons, with specific government action needed to include a state on the list. There is also a refreshing transparency regarding those countries not eligible to receive automatic weapons exports.

As noted above, a potential automatic firearms recipient state may be added to the list following a formal defence agreement between the governments of Canada and the state. List membership is not conditional on other obligations such as those--like human rights conditions--that might arise from state responsibilities under international law. Thus Saudi Arabia--a state whose government is persistently criticized by international monitors for serious human rights violations--has remained on the AFCCL since its founding in 1991.

The vast majority of Canada's reported military small arms exports (2) are shipped to AFCCL member states (see Figure A). In the decade from 1993 to 2002, reported small arms shipments to all recipients totaled $143.6-million, $135.7-million of which was the value of shipments to AFCCL countries. The annual value of Canadian small arms exports to all non-AFCCL states never exceeded $2.3-million and in most years it was well under 10 per cent of total exports. Indeed, it is apparent from the graph that the variation in volume of Canadian small arms exports is due to shipments to AFCCL countries. The recent history of Canadian military small arms exports is largely the history of shipments to AFCCL countries.


It should be noted that the reported trade of Figure A does not include exports to the US. Unique military trade arrangements between the US and Canada preclude the tracking of Canadian military exports to the US and consequently the compilation of data. Sources outside International Trade Canada, however, show that the US is by far the largest recipient of Canadian firearms exports. Thus, the addition of US data to Figure A would emphasize the concentration of Canadian small arms exports to AFCCL states.

While not all reported AFCCL shipments are of automatic weapons, public sources indicate that most shipments are from Diemaco Inc, now operating as Colt Canada, a subsidiary of the US-based Colt Defense Inc. Diemaco/Colt Canada manufactures C-7 and C-8 automatic weapons for the Canadian Forces and has won export orders from the NATO countries of Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, and the UK. Table B lists the contracts reported by Diemaco during the 10-year period of the most recent government reports. The export contracts to the four NATO countries (and members of the AFCCL) total over $130-million.

Most of the volume of small arms exports is determined by AFCCL states. However, in the period 1993-2002, the number of non-AFCCL recipient states exceeded the number of AFCCL recipient states in every year except 1993 (see Figure B). Moreover, while the annual number of AFCCL recipients has remained reasonably steady at about 10, the number of non-AFCCL recipients has varied from a low of five to a peak of 49. (3) The subsequent fall in the number of non-AFCCL recipients corresponds to instructions in June 1996 from then Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy to his export control officials "to apply even stricter controls where firearms are concerned." (4)


The Canadian small arms export record of the last reported decade suggests that the Automatic Firearms Country Control List could become an effective export regulation tool for other supplier states. However, before it is recommended to others, the AFCCL would benefit from at least two amendments that would reduce the risk of the irresponsible use of exported firearms:

* The current criteria for a state's inclusion on the AFCCL are weak and susceptible to the financial benefits of new firearms export opportunities. Additional criteria that are based on Canada's responsibilities under international law should be made explicit and compulsory before a country is put on the list. For example, there should be reasonable guarantees that the imported firearms will not be used against domestic populations.

* Given the particularly egregious impact of the trade in small arms and light weapons, the AFCCL should become the Firearms Country Control List (FCCL) and apply to Canadian exports of all firearms. According to Export Control Division figures, the recent value of non-automatic firearms exports to cotmtries not on the AFCCL has been relatively low, so military industry concerns about the economic costs of new arms controls do not apply to any significant degree. There would be little economic cost and more effective control by precluding all firearms transfers to countries not on the AFCCL.

Although born of political and economic expediency, for 15 years the Automatic Firearms Country Control List has confined Canadian exports of automatic weapons to 20 or fewer known, mostly allied states. If other exporting states were to adopt a similar regulatory instrument, many future irresponsible transfers of automatic weapons could be prevented, and many innocent lives spared.


(1.) During parliamentary debate of Bill C-6, opposition members attempted to add amendments to the bill to require more of a potential AFCCL country than a defence agreement with Canada. The amendments, which contained criteria addressing regional security, human rights, and excessive armaments, were voted down by the government.

(2.) The small arms export totals were compiled from figures reported for Item 2001 of the Export Control List (ECL) in the Export of Military Goods from Canada: Annual Report for the years 1993 to 2002 (see the Export and Import Control Bureau webpage at It is worth noting that Item 2001 does not include all small arms and light weapons (SALW) categories defined by the accepted United Nations definition. Some small arms are included in ECL categories in which no distinction is made with larger weapons.

(3.) It is not apparent why the number of non-AFCCL states that received Canadian firearms rose so dramatically in 1996. The recipient states that year included Andorra, Argentina, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Chile, Central African Republic, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guadeloupe, Guyana, and India. In most cases, the value of these exports was less than $10,000 and in some cases only a few hundred dollars.

(4.) Axworthy instructed the Department to "apply even stricter controls where firearms are concerned, including examining the gun control-laws and practices in recipient countries to satisfy ourselves that Canadian firearms would not slip into the illegal arms trade, or fuel local lawlessness or violence" (DFAIT 1996, 4).


Canada Gazette. 2001. Vol. 135, No. 26, December 19.

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 1997. Annual report 1996: Export of military goods from Canada.

Senate of Canada. 1991. Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20.
Table A
Automatic Firearms Country
Control List countries

Country Year added

Australia 1991
Belgium 1991
Botswana 2001
Denmark 1991
Finland 2005
France 1991
Germany 1991
Greece 2002
Italy 1991
Latvia 2005
Netherlands 1991
New Zealand 2002
Norway 1991
Poland 2005
Portugal 2005
Saudi Arabia 1991
Spain 1991
Sweden 1991
United Kingdom 1991
United States 1991

Table B
Automatic firearms export contracts reported
by Diemaco Inc, Kitchener, Ontario

Date Description of Amount Recipient
 contract in Cdn$ Name
 (and comments)

1993 Buffered gun mounts for $5,000,000 NATO
 light armoured
 personnel carriers

1994 Over 52,000 C-7 assault $50,000,000 Netherlands
 Three-year contract.
 Deliveries to begin in 1995

1995 Rifles for Danish $5,000,000 Denmark
 troops on UN
 peacekeeping missions

1996 Follow-on order for 5,000 $8,000,000 Denmark
 C7A1 5.56 mm rifles for
 Danish International Brigade
 Brigade assigned to
 NATO's Rapid Reaction Corps
 Deliveries by December 1996

1999 Special Forces Weapons & N/A Norway
 M-203-A1 Grenade
 Launchers for Army
 Special Forces
 Estimated contract date

1999 Rifles & related equipment $20,000,000 Denmark
 Two contracts via Canadian
 Commercial Corporation

2000 Rifles for special forces $5,000,000 United Kingdom

2000 C7 rifles & carbines for $38,000,000 Denmark
 Danish Army & Home Guard
 Five-year contract in
 addition to two
 December 1999 contracts
 Via Canadian Commercial

2001 Components $6,000,000 Not reported
 Recipient not reported
 73 per cent to be
 delivered in FY 2001-02
 and 27 per cent
 the year after

2001 Delivery of first 200 N/A Ireland
 M203A1 40 mm grenade
 launchers for 5.56 mm
 Steyr AUG assault rifles
 Total order: 640 launchers
 For Irish Army

2002 Small arms for $3,000,000 Denmark
 Danish Navy

2002 Small arms for $3,000,000 Norway
 Armed Forces

Source: Canadian Military Industry Database, Project Ploughshares
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Author:Epps, Ken
Publication:Ploughshares Monitor
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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