THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Wednesday, December 16, 2020
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met by videoconference this day at 10 a.m. [ET] to consider Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act.
Senator Peter M. Boehm (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, my name is Peter Boehm. I’m a senator from Ontario and I am the chair of this committee.
Today we are conducting a hybrid committee of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I want to thank you, senators, in advance for your patience as we continue to adapt to this new way of holding our meetings.
Before we begin, I would like to remind senators and witnesses to please keep their microphones muted at all times unless recognized by name by the chair. For those participating in this meeting via Zoom, please use the “raise hand” feature to speak. For the others, I will ask you to please signal to the clerk if you want to be recognized.
Our clerk is Madam Gaëtane Lemay, who is sitting to my left.
I would also like to remind you that when speaking, you should be on the same interpretation channel as the language you are speaking. Should any technical challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair or the clerk, and we will work to resolve the issue.
At this moment, I would like to introduce the members of the committee who are participating in this meeting: Senator Ataullahjan; Senator D. Black; Senator Coyle; Senator Dean; Senator M. Deacon; Senator Greene; Senator Harder, deputy chair; Senator Ngo, deputy chair; and Senator Simons. I wish to welcome all of you and the viewers across the country who may be watching this meeting.
Today we are continuing our consideration of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act.
This morning, for the first hour or so, to present for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, joining us from Prague — not The Hague — we welcome Veronika Stromšíková, Director, Office of Strategy and Policy. Madam Stromšíková, I hope I’ve pronounced your name correctly.
Veronika Stromšíková, Director, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: Very well. Thank you, chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the committee. I believe you would like to deliver a statement on behalf of the Director-General of the OPCW, His Excellency Fernando Arias. You now have the floor. Please proceed.
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Distinguished committee members, ladies and gentlemen, at the outset, I wish to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade for inviting me to address you today. Canada is a long-standing and steadfast supporter of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. I welcome this opportunity to present the work of the OPCW to this esteemed committee as it considers amendments to Canada’s Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act.
In 1997, the convention entered into force and the OPCW was established to oversee its implementation. The convention aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction through an absolute unconditional ban. During the last 23 years, the OPCW has delivered concrete and significant results. With 193 states parties, the treaty covers 98% of the global population.
Destruction is a core element of the convention and the first of its four pillars. To date, over 98% of declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been verified as eliminated. Safe and steady destruction continues, and the remaining fraction is on track to be destroyed by 2023.
The second pillar is the non-proliferation of chemical weapons. In this regard, the OPCW’s robust verification regime, including over 200 industrial inspections per year, ensures that toxic chemicals under the convention’s purview are only used for peaceful purposes.
The third pillar, assistance and protection, ensures each state party receives assistance upon request from the OPCW or its member states against the use or threat of use of chemical weapons.
Finally, the fourth pillar, international cooperation, supports peaceful uses of chemistry through sponsorship programs in chemical research, the development of laboratory capacity and specialized training in the safe management of chemicals.
Distinguished committee members, in recognition of the OPCW’s extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. However, the incidence of use of chemical weapons in recent years in Syria, Iraq, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and most recently in the Russian Federation demonstrate that there is no room for complacency.
In 2020, the OPCW entered its seventh year of engagement in the Syrian Arab Republic. Yet today, many concerns remain regarding the Syrian chemical weapons dossier. First, Syria’s initial declaration of its chemical weapons program, submitted back in 2013, remains incomplete. An OPCW Declaration Assessment Team, or DAT, was established back in 2014 to address the concerns of the international community in this regard. Syria’s declaration has since been amended 17 times. Despite these amendments, many serious questions remain unanswered. Overall, the information provided does not enable the secretariat to resolve the identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in Syria’s initial declaration.
The second issue of concern is the repeated allegations of chemical weapons use on the territory of Syria. To address these concerns, a fact-finding mission, or FFM, was established in April 2014. To date, the FFM has investigated 77 allegations and determined 18 events of likely or confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria.
In June 2018, the Conference of the States Parties adopted a decision to address the persistent threat of such use. The Investigation and Identification Team, or the IIT, was established to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons use in Syria.
In April 2020, the secretariat released the first report of the IIT concerning three cases. The report concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that individuals belonging to the Syrian Arab Air Force used chemical weapons in Ltamenah on three occasions in 2017. Sarin was used twice and chlorine in one of the attacks.
Following the issuance of the IIT report, the OPCW Executive Council adopted a decision this July requesting the Syrian Arab Republic to take a set of remedial measures within 90 days. To date, the Syrian Arab Republic has not completed any of these requirements. It is now up to the states parties to address this issue further.
Unfortunately, chemical weapons have also been used recently in other parts of the world. In 2018, a chemical weapon was used in Salisbury and in Amesbury in the United Kingdom. Five individuals were poisoned, one fatally. The secretariat dispatched a team of experts at the request of the U.K. and, through an independent analysis of the samples collected in Salisbury and Amesbury, confirmed the findings regarding the chemical formula of the nerve agent used.
Following these events, two decisions to amend the schedules of chemicals listed in the convention were adopted at the Conference of States Parties in November of last year. It was the first time since the entry into force of the convention that this list was amended. In doing so, states parties proved that they are able to adapt the treaty to respond to new challenges and risks.
Despite this development, the threat of chemical weapons use is not receding. As recently as August 20 of this year, news came to the world that Russian citizen and political activist Mr. Alexei Navalny had been poisoned in Russia. In response to a request from the Federal Republic of Germany, a team of experts from the secretariat independently collected biomedical samples from Mr. Navalny for analysis by the OPCW-designated laboratories. The results of this analysis confirmed that the biomarkers in the samples taken from Mr. Navalny had similar structural characteristics as the toxic chemicals that were added to the annex of chemicals of the convention.
On October 6, the secretariat received a request from the Russian Federation for a technical assistance visit concerning the same incident. The secretariat has since engaged with the Russian Federation to resolve the outstanding legal, technical and operational matters that are necessary in order for such a visit to take place.
Distinguished members of the committee, we are nearing the end of the elimination of declared chemical weapons stockpiles. However, our most difficult challenges still lie ahead. In the post-destruction era, we must focus on preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons. The OPCW’s future centre for chemistry and technology will play an important role in this regard. It will create new capacity building and join research opportunities, and it will also provide a platform for international cooperation. It will further enhance our knowledge-management capabilities. A new state-of-the-art laboratory will equip our organization with the tools and resources it needs to adapt to new developments in science and technology. And, not least, the centre will play an important role in ensuring the organization’s business continuity. This is essential, as the headquarters of the OPCW have continued to be subject to various sorts of cyberattacks throughout 2020. The number of these attacks is on the rise and the level of sophistication is considerable.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak, the chemtech centre project has continued to make steady progress. Construction is planned to begin in the summer of next year, and completion is expected by the end of 2022. This ambitious €33.5-million project is being supported by extra-budgetary funding. Canada has generously contributed C$10 million, or €6.6 million, to fund the chemtech centre.
Other important projects, such as enhancing the organization’s resilience against cyberattacks, have also been funded by Global Affairs Canada through the global partnership platform. On behalf of the Director-General, I would like to thank the Government of Canada for its substantial and consistent support for these projects.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed in a very different period than the one we are now living in. In the evolving global security environment, the organization has maintained its professionalism and faithfully focused on its mission. It is the responsibility of its 193 states parties to preserve the convention’s achievements and to uphold the norm against the use of chemical weapons. In this endeavour, the support to our organization that we have received from Canada has an immense value.
I thank you for your attention and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation, Ms. Stromšíková. The questioning will now begin. I would like to turn first to Senator Coyle, who is the sponsor of the bill.
Senator Coyle: Dobryj dyen, Ms. Stromšíková. It’s wonderful to have you with us. Thank you very much for your thorough introduction to the work of the OPCW, both historically, in describing the four pillars, but also reminding us that we are in a quickly evolving global security environment, which is what I would like to focus on with you.
I have two questions. First, you spoke about the inspections in Syria, the results of the fact-finding missions there and the time frame for compliance, et cetera. Syria is a signatory. In a case like Syria — and perhaps others that will emerge in the future — what are the next steps when there is a situation of non-compliance with the recommendations coming out of such an inspection? Thank you.
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you very much, senator, for this very pertinent question. I can’t speculate too much about what states parties of the OPCW will choose to do next. What I can share with you are the possibilities that the Chemical Weapons Convention offers and then potentially the broader international system.
The Chemical Weapons Convention does not allow for the expulsion of a member state. Syria cannot be ousted from the OPCW for non-compliance. Syria can, at maximum, be deprived of its voting rights in the Conference of States Parties, which would mean they can’t effectively participate in any decision making. States parties in The Hague are currently considering that. When the Conference of States Parties resumes in the spring of 2021, this will possibly be part of the draft that they will put on the table.
Speaking more broadly, I should inform the distinguished members of the committee that the results of our investigations — both the information gathered by the fact-finding mission as well as the results of the Investigation and Identification Team — are being transmitted based on a United Nations General Assembly resolution to the so-called International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, IIIM, which sits in Geneva and which is supposed to gather evidence for the most serious crimes that have been committed during the Syrian conflict. This is a bridge, basically, between the OPCW and the broader, I would say, accountability mechanisms of the United Nations, especially. Again, it is then over to those mechanisms and states parties who have created them to ask for further action.
The IIIM mechanism, though, can also serve for national investigations. You may have heard that Germany is using its universal jurisdiction arrangement to start prosecuting some of the Syrian officials for atrocities committed in Syria.
This is how our work is serving as a basis for the broader accountability framework, I would say. I hope I answered your question.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for being with us this morning, and good afternoon to you; it’s afternoon there.
Staying with the theme of Syria — because we know that Syria used chemical weapons as recently as May of 2019 — do we know what kind of stockpiles they have and the capabilities of these stockpiles?
Ms. Stromšíková: This is the problem with the incompleteness of the Syrian declaration. Every state party, upon entering the OPCW, has an obligation by the convention to declare all its stockpiles. With Syria, despite the seven years of effort by the secretariat, we still cannot confidently assert that all their declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed. A number of chemical weapons agents have been identified in the samples taken by the DAT, the Declaration Assessment Team, directly in Syria that are unaccounted for in their declaration. We have tons of material of chemical weapons — not just material; strictly speaking, chemical weapons — that have been allegedly used in testing, but there is no documentation to support this allegation or this claim by the Syrian Arab Republic. We have chemical weapons production facilities that have been declared as never having been used for production of chemical weapons agents, and yet our samples speak a different language. It is again up to the states parties to perhaps address this issue in a more upfront manner, given all the limitations that I have explained in terms of what the convention actually allows in terms of addressing non-compliance.
Would this answer your question, senator?
Senator Ataullahjan: Yes, it does.
You speak of limitations. What could one possibly do? At some level, you take the country’s word that they have destroyed the stockpiles. What’s the next step, especially with Syria? It’s very hard to get into Syria and do inspections. What would be the next level?
Ms. Stromšíková: For the Technical Secretariat, we are simply obliged to continue our engagement with the Syrian government, identifying very specifically what kind of documentation we would need them to deliver to us so that we close some of the outstanding issues, one by one. We would need them to allow us to interview some of the key personalities that have been engaged in the chemical weapons program in Syria, who have developed and produced chemical weapons in the country. That has still not happened.
Of course, the secretariat is not an enforcing body. We cannot force our way in. Syria has to allow us to enter the country, which they do, but they are lacking elements and documents for our declaration assessment that we still have not received. So the only thing that can be done then from the states parties is raising this concern with the Syrian government at different levels, and perhaps not only in the OPCW. There is also the United Nations Security Council. There is also the United Nations General Assembly. There are all these bodies that can also, I believe, look into the problem and address it.
Senator Dean: Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Stromšíková. First of all, thanks for the very important work that you do. This is really illuminating to those of us unfamiliar with the organization, and we’re obviously pleased to hear your positive comments on Canada.
One hundred ninety-three states are in compliance. We’ve heard that. We talk about Syria. Four haven’t ratified. Three of those countries have not signed. Are there any reasons for concern about any of these four states regarding the possession of prohibited weapons?
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you very much. I can only base it, myself, on the open-source information that is available. From that, we have one signatory state, Israel, and then Egypt, South Sudan and North Korea are not even signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention. What you can get from these open sources suggests that especially if the DPRK were to open for a discussion of its possible arsenals, there would be relatively massive stockpiles. If they were to join the convention as part, perhaps, of some kind of a broader disarmament deal, it would be an enormous enterprise for the OPCW and for the international community to start the process of destruction of all these stockpiles. Again, the open sources suggest that they are considerable.
What we are working for at the secretariat is focusing — because the chemical weapons knowledge is becoming increasingly rare as the stockpiles are diminishing. We are trying to maintain our readiness in terms of expertise so that, should the moment hopefully come at some time in the future, the OPCW is ready to verify the destruction process and advise on it. Thank you.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for being here today. It’s very enlightening, and we’re trying to respect what the role is and perhaps what the role is not.
I would like to come back again to the countries you listed. You talked about Syria having had their rights and privileges suspended. I do wonder if that has been done in the past. If so, has there been a factor impact on the offending state in the past, in any other countries?
Ms. Stromšíková: This is a very good question. In fact, never in the more than 20 years of history of the OPCW have we had a situation when states parties would even get close to considering these measures. In all other possessor states, the declaration has raised no issue, and the verification of destruction of their stockpiles has never raised these kinds of issues. Most importantly, never in the history of the OPCW do we have an international body confirming use of chemical weapons by a state party of the OPCW. This is unprecedented indeed.
Senator M. Deacon: I think we’re all wondering, too, about the ultimate enforcement. When you talk about what your agency is and isn’t, I think we’re all wondering how countries can be held ultimately accountable for their actions. That is a continuous question we look at.
When I look at the OPCW’s role in the implementation of the CWC, I’m trying to picture this. Is there a set group of inspectors that the OPCW sends into countries for inspections, or is it led through the UN? On the destruction of existing chemicals and stockpiles, is the team sent in to do it? Do they provide leadership? Or is the expertise left to the countries to carry out the destruction themselves and to really 100% eradicate the issue?
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you for this question.
It is our own staff and our own inspectors and our own team always that deploy to the countries, whether it’s on a technical assistance visit, like our visit to Germany relating to the case of Mr. Navalny, or in relation to Syria.
When it comes to destruction of declared stockpiles, each country, possessor state, is in principle obliged to take care of destruction of their own stockpiles. However, the reality is oftentimes slightly different. It has been the case of Syria where the destruction of the 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons has taken place in the Mediterranean Sea as part of a very elaborate international operation. The destruction itself took place partly on the American vessel Cape Ray anchored in the Mediterranean. The rest has been transported through Gibraltar over to Germany where it was finished at a German destruction place. This was also an international community effort but, at the same time, OPCW inspectors had always been present to take samples and verify as an independent actor that what is declared for destruction is indeed the same agent and it’s been destroyed.
An interesting point perhaps to mention as well is that Russian stockpiles have also been destroyed in Russia and partially funded by their own national resources. But many countries, including Canada, I believe, have actually financially contributed to the destruction effort. So Russia’s early destruction of their own chemical weapons stockpiles has been done under the OPCW inspectors’ supervision but with quite considerable financial assistance by a number of Western states.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you very much.
Senator Ataullahjan: You spoke about the destruction of weapons. Are there any international observers present when, for example, Russia says that it has destroyed its chemical weapons?
Ms. Stromšíková: Yes, there are. Indeed, we have our inspectors continuously observing the destruction process, and this is happening, despite the COVID circumstances, at the United States destruction facilities right now, 24-7. Our inspectors rotate in six-week terms to continuously observe the destruction process. So this is a true international, independent verification.
Senator Simons: Thank you so much for joining us from Prague.
I had some questions that were more specific to the Novichok group of chemical nerve agents and the OPCW’s listing process. As I understand it, Novichok agents have been with us in various forms dating back to the days of the Soviet Union. As I understand it also, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different types, strains or varieties of Novichok agents. When we go to list this, what is the OPCW protocol to make sure that we capture all of the potential agents in question?
Then I have a separate question, which perhaps shows my complete ignorance of this. The known incidents we have of these Novichok agents very recently were extremely targeted. They were assassinations rather than the kind of broad chemical weapon attacks we’ve seen in other countries. Do we know scientifically if Novichok agents can be aerosolized, used as weapons of mass destruction rather than in the very targeted specific way we’ve seen them used to date?
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you very much. I must say that on the aerosolization possibility of Novichoks, I would have to ask my scientific advisers. I would happily come back to you on that in writing, senator, because I’m not a chemist. I’m a lawyer by formation, so I won’t venture to speculate.
In terms of listing, that is a very pertinent question, in fact, relating to Novichoks but also to other chemical weapons because the chemistry, as I’ve learned since my posting at the OPCW, is a very rich science, and you have myriad possible formulas from the different families of chemical weapons agents. This goes for the Novichok family.
So we know that the nerve agents used in Salisbury and Amesbury belonged to the family that are under the umbrella usually referred to as Novichoks in open sources, although this is not really a scientific term but widely used. This is why a group of states parties has decided to initiate the inclusion of these agents and the families in the convention’s schedules. This has been successfully completed about a year ago, and this is why you are dealing with the amendment to the implementation bill today.
However, apparently, the new inclusions are still not comprehensive enough to capture all the possible — shall I say — mutations of the nerve agent. We already know that the chemical used in the poisoning of Mr. Navalny shows similar structural characteristics, but the results of the analysis that we have at our disposal suggest that this specific agent is not yet on the convention’s schedule, so now it is entirely up to states parties’ discretion to consider whether, perhaps, a new addition is needed to cover this one also. Whether it is even possible to include all the variations of the Novichok family agents, I wouldn’t venture to say. What I know from our scientific colleagues about this is that, at some point, the chemical variations lose their toxicity. At that point, it doesn’t make much sense anymore to include them in the convention’s schedules. Clearly, this is not the case with the agent that has almost killed Mr. Navalny. That one clearly is still toxic enough that possible inclusion could be considered.
The Chair: Thank you very much. In response to the first part of Senator Simons’s question, if you could send us a note or a memo over on the aerosolization potential, that would be very good.
Ms. Stromšíková: Will do. Yes.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Harder: Thank you, Ms. Stromšíková, for being with us today. I want to follow up on comments that you made with respect to cyberattacks that are experienced directly by the organization. Could you expand on that and tell us — it may be a related question or it may be a separate question — to what extent you are monitoring and able to deal with non-state actors’ use of banned weapons, chemical weapons, and what, if anything, states parties can do to assist the capacity of your organization to also withstand cyberattacks and, indeed, deal with non-state actors?
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you very much. Those are very pertinent questions again.
Regarding the cyberattacks, this is something I must say that is relatively new for our organization. We can, again, only speculate whether and how it may be related to some of the work that the OPCW has been doing over the past years, but, as I’ve said, our IT systems have been subject to an increasing number of increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.
It needs to be said that our organization is relatively small, and the budget is also correspondingly small. It’s actually less than €18 million per year, so we are a relatively cheap organization for taxpayers in our member states. But this also has its drawbacks because as opposed to, for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, which is much larger, they also have a corresponding budget to build up their resilience against these kinds of attacks because it does cost you money to invest in these things.
The way we are trying to deal with it is, of course, using the limited human resources and financial resources that we can invest into this field, but I must say that without voluntary contributions, including those from Canada, we would struggle. We would struggle to defend the information that is protected and that states parties have entrusted us with. This is an area of concern that requires continued effort from the secretariat side, but we do need states parties’ additional assistance on this front.
As to the second question on the non-state actors, this is, I would say, an equal concern to states parties resorting to chemical weapons use. We have proven cases of use of crude mustard by ISIL in Iraq. We have the same proven by the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism in Syria. So, yes, chemical weapons are the least technologically demanding weapons of mass destruction. It’s very difficult to produce a crude radiological nuclear weapon. With chemical weapons, chlorine is sometimes enough to kill or harm people very seriously.
What we offer to states parties on this front is building up their capacity to enhance chemical security. If you have toxic chemicals that are well accounted for, where you monitor not just production but also transportation, storage and disposal, when you have a national system of chemical security and safeguards in this regard, it’s less likely that your toxic chemicals that are ubiquitous nowadays will fall into the wrong hands. But it’s a continuous effort, and it’s an essential part of our capacity building that we offer to states parties. Thank you.
Senator Greene: Thank you very much. Your work is very valuable.
I would like to ask two small questions. First, how are you funded? Second, is your funding adequate to your work?
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you for this question. We are funded through regular contribution by 193 states parties. They use exactly the same contribution scale as the United Nations. The percentage is calculated the same way as in the UN. However, as I’ve mentioned, for a number of activities, the less-than-80-million-euro budget would simply not suffice. It would not suffice for the activities that we carry out in Syria. It would not suffice to build up our resilience against cyberattacks. It would also not suffice to build the chemtech centre, the project for the future of the organization. For all of this, we keep relying on voluntary contributions. Global partnership has been very helpful in this regard, and we have several trust funds set up for the individual purposes where states parties can contribute. Thank you.
Senator Greene: Thank you.
The Chair: Would any other senator like to ask a question who hasn’t asked a question yet in the first round?
I will take my role as chair and ask one question. It follows along the question from Senator Harder. I understand, of course, the challenge inspections are when the OPCW undertakes inspections on an any-time, any-place basis upon the request of a state party to the convention. What happens if there’s a civil society organization or an individual who finds out that, let us say, non-state actors — to go back to Senator Harder’s question — are active in using or producing or formulating agents, nerve agents, for example? Is there any sort of mechanism in place where the OPCW could be alerted, or are these individual organizations compelled to go to states parties to the convention?
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It’s the second. I wouldn’t say “non-state actor” because it looks like we are talking about the perpetrators. Any non-government entity has to approach the OPCW through a member state. It doesn’t necessarily have to be its own member state, but any of the 193 states parties. These are the only, let’s say, legitimate entities that can initiate the secretariat’s action.
We do have civil society participating in the policy [Technical difficulties] meetings. They attend the Conference of States Parties and they deliver statements, but they cannot initiate the secretariat’s action. This is not possible per the convention. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for that. We’ll go to round two.
Senator Coyle: I did have a couple of my questions already answered, but I do have a final question.
One of our colleagues mentioned that this is one of the categories of weapons of mass destruction. The other categories include biological, nuclear, et cetera. I’m curious whether there is collaboration between the various agencies that are working on weapons of mass destruction, between, for instance, the OPCW and others working on the biological or the nuclear weapons issues. Could you inform us on that? Thank you.
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you. Yes, it is true that — we get this question frequently, and here, I’d say, it again has to do with the characteristics of the weapon of mass destruction that we want to talk about, and also the size of the respective organization is a factor as well.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, to a large degree lives its own life and focuses on nuclear and radiological, which is a domain per se with a number of specifics. There is regular exchange of information. Our chiefs of cabinet converse regularly. We visit each other on different occasions. But there are no joint projects, I would say.
With the chemical and biological weapons, we cooperate quite closely. The issue is the Biological Weapons Convention does not have an organization or any other enforcement mechanism set up. It comprises, I believe currently, three people in Geneva who are called the Implementation Support Unit. That’s all that the Biological Weapons Convention has at its disposal. There are no verification mechanisms, no possibility to go on inspections, no possibility for capacity building to states parties to the BWC.
At the same time, we share agents that are considered both biological and chemical weapons. Biotoxins such as ricin or saxitoxin fall under the purview of both regimes, the biological and chemical weapons conventions. So we try to be in regular touch and follow the developments in the BWC, but we also try to build up our own capacities to address these biotoxins.
I personally think that this is one of the relevant risks or threats for the future. There was a thwarted ricin plot by a non-state actor in Germany just last year, I believe. There are non-state actors out there, not just in, let’s say, developing countries but also in Europe, who try to resort to these chemical/biological weapons. On this front, we are trying to also cover, let’s say, for the missing part on the biological weapons front through building our capacity, our own expertise in the field. Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much. That’s very helpful, particularly in relation to what you said in your introductory remarks with this really rapidly evolving global security environment. I really appreciate you filling us in on that. Thank you.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you to my colleagues who have asked part of this question, as recently as Senator Coyle. We talked about this a little bit on Monday.
I’m trying to understand a little bit more the process you go through in determining which substances to ban. You talked about expansion and research facilities being built and progression in that way. Is it often in reaction to the weaponized use of a chemical in the case similar to Novichok, or is it more proactive when you look, at the end of the day, at your cycle for approving which substances to ban? Could you comment on that a bit more?
Ms. Stromšíková: The initiative to expand the controlled schedules of chemicals lies with our states parties. It was, in fact, the first occasion when they took the initiative with relation to the Salisbury and Amesbury poisonings. States parties tend to be relatively conservative when it comes to expanding the schedules. It may have practical reasons, as we outlined. It’s complicated to actually capture the right scope in terms of how broad a family you want to include. It also has implications for states parties in terms of increasing the number of inspected facilities, which is, perhaps, something they are reluctantly prudent about. They really seem to be rather cautious when it comes to expanding the list of schedules.
Your question, senator, actually allows me to stress one important element of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and that is that any toxic chemical becomes a chemical weapon and should be called a chemical weapon as soon as it is used to harm people or animals. This is called a general purpose criterion, which is enshrined in the definition part of the convention itself. It doesn’t really matter whether the particular chemical is listed in the schedules in terms of whether we call it a chemical weapon. Chlorine used in Syria was a chemical weapon used, despite chlorine not being listed in the convention’s schedules. The only difference that this scheduling makes for states parties is that they may be inspected if they produce a set amount of those listed chemicals. They have to declare them as well, but otherwise the prohibition on use is absolute and concerns any toxic chemicals. Thank you.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.
Senator Simons: I have a question about the structure and function of the OPCW labs. I presume their primary function is to investigate and to list and to look at the nature of the agents, but do they do any work toward finding treatments or antidotes? Do they coordinate with researchers outside the OPCW? To what extent are they working to protect us from the agents that we know are out there, like the sarins and the Novichok agents?
Ms. Stromšíková: I should first distinguish between the OPCW network of designated laboratories and our own OPCW laboratory. Currently, our relatively modest OPCW laboratory basically serves as a channel and a focal point for the international network of professional labs that has committed to carry out the necessary analysis for us.
When we receive a sample, let’s say, from Syria or anywhere else, we don’t analyze it ourselves in The Hague, in the OPCW laboratory. We dispatch it to at least two from these designated labs. They get these samples as anonymous samples. They carry out the analysis and then send the results back to our OPCW lab, which then produces the respective report. This is to ensure independence of the analysis, but also the designated laboratories have gone through a stringent procedure for the designation. It’s a tough round of proficiency testing to get to the title of “designated laboratory,” and they are really top-notch institutions in terms of analysis.
At the same time, these laboratories carry on their regular lab work and are not just working for the OPCW by far. If they do any kind of chemical weapons research, we don’t get the results of this kind of research. They do it for themselves.
We have been aware that this is perhaps something that’s missing in our work and we should do something about it. This is why we have embarked upon the chemtech centre project. In the future, this chemtech centre should, indeed, have the capability to do our own research and analysis, perhaps also with the help of eminent scientists and chemists coming to The Hague and working with us on research on medical countermeasures against chemical weapons and protection measures against chemical weapons. This is the music of the future, when the chemtech centre will be ready, hopefully at the end of 2022. Thank you.
Senator Simons: Thank you very much.
The Chair: We’ve come to the end of our questioning. Ms. Stromšíková, I would really like to thank you for being with us today. We know you’re six hours ahead, and our next witness is three hours behind in British Columbia, but that’s how we do things globally now, I suppose. I want to thank you for your comprehensive presentation and your very cogent and interesting responses to the questions that we had. We wish you well in Prague — a beautiful city, especially this time of year. Thank you very much.
Ms. Stromšíková: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairperson, and thank you to all the committee members for the excellent questions. It was a pleasure being with you, albeit remotely. I know I have one piece of homework to take with me that I’ll submit later on in writing. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you and goodbye.
Colleagues, we will do what’s called a “soft transition.” I mangled that last time, but I’m really ready to do it now. We’re going to switch to the next part of our session.
Colleagues, for the second part of our meeting, we welcome Dr. Walter Dorn, Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.
Dr. Dorn, welcome, and thank you for being with us. We understand that you’re not in Kingston but you’re somewhere in British Columbia, which is good too. We appreciate your flexibility in terms of being present to meet with us. We have about half an hour to hear both your presentation and also the questions that we will be asking. Without any further delay, please proceed.
Walter Dorn, Professor, Royal Military College of Canada, as an individual: Mr. Chair, honourable senators, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you on a topic as important as the prohibition of chemical weapons. The mechanisms to control weapons of mass destruction concern us all. And we in Canada have a history of both governmental and non-governmental contributions to those mechanisms of control.
I’m pleased to tell you about an early contribution from Canadian civil society to the Chemical Weapons Convention and its legislative requirements. The idea to add a requirement for penal legislation was first proposed by a group of Canadian lawyers and an idealistic chemistry graduate student, namely, me, in the late 1980s. Our Markland Group, led by the late Douglas Scott, Q.C., studied the verification and compliance mechanisms of past arms control treaties, and we sought to find better ways to enforce international law. We suggested to the negotiating states in the Conference on Disarmament that nations be obliged in the convention’s text to implement national penal legislation, binding on civil servants and citizens alike, to make it a violation of national law to violate the international treaty. This proposal was included in the near final draft of the rolling text of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The chair, German Ambassador Von Wagner, made a specific point of showing us how our ideas had been incorporated, so Canadian civil society played a role in treaty development through the suggestion of a specific legislative requirement.
Parliaments were given an unprecedented role in this treaty, not only in ratification and penal legislation but also for verification and compliance provisions. In 1993, I was working on chemical weapons control for Parliamentarians for Global Action, an organization I would encourage you all to join. In Paris in 1993, I organized for PGA a parliamentary symposium at the French Parliament, co-chaired by the late Honourable Warren Allmand, the MP from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, who was also my predecessor as president of the World Federalist Movement — Canada. Under his leadership in Paris, we adopted a parliamentary declaration on the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and we witnessed the opening for signature of the treaty in the UNESCO building.
At the signing ceremonies, I happened to be roaming the halls of the UNESCO building. I heard a distant call from the head of the UN’s Treaty Section. She told me that the treaty was so heavy, being almost 200 pages in English, multiplied by the six official languages of the UN, on thick paper. I acceded to her request to carry the treaty from the signing hall, with all the signatures of the foreign ministers and plenipotentiaries, to the waiting taxi to begin its journey to New York. I joke with my students that it was while carrying the treaty that I felt the real weight of international law. It was true legally, as well as physically, because the treaty broke new ground in international affairs and treaty implementation.
When the Canadian Parliament was considering the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act in 1995, I provided testimony on the legislation to a committee shared by the Honourable Bill Graham. I was happy with the provisions on managing scheduled chemicals and I remain so. The legislative provision that the convention, as it may be amended, would prevail over the 1993 original version was a model for international legislation. It reinforced Canada’s commitment to the treaty and international processes. The Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act provisions were satisfactory then and they remain so.
However, I do understand the government’s desire to make the legislation simpler. As the schedule to the act contains only excerpts from the 1993 convention, it makes some sense to refer only to the latest version of the treaty, including the treaty’s annex of chemicals, which was recently modified. However, Canadians will now have a lot more reading to do in the thick Chemical Weapons Convention than simply reading the excerpts conveniently provided in the act’s schedule that you will be considering repealing. Though the benefit of the amendments are modest, they are still worthwhile. I am glad that Parliament, and you, senators, are looking at the issue.
Lest we think that international non-compliance is only a matter of certain foreign states — or selective non-state parties — like Russia or Syria, we have a convention violation here in Canada. My fellow representative of Science for Peace to the UN, Dr. Danielle Stodilka, reminded me that just this fall a Canadian resident, Pascale Ferrier, was arrested by the U.S. authorities for mailing letters from Canada laden with the toxin ricin inside. Ricin, which can be made from castor beans, is listed in Schedule 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention. You will see it as number 8 in Schedule 1 in the legislation you are considering to amend today. Four new chemical categories have been added just after ricin. It is highly likely that a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention was committed and uncaught by Canadian authorities near Montreal.
We should also be mindful that even North American defence scientists can be violators of arms control laws. I take the finding of a violation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention by Dr. Bruce Ivins the U.S. infectious disease scientist working at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The FBI alleges that from his flask the anthrax used in the October 2001 attack was derived. Dr. Ivins committed suicide after being told that the FBI would be indicting him. The related anthrax letters framed Islamic extremists one month after 9/11, and they caused five deaths. The FBI holds that his motive was to gain more funds and attention for U.S. anthrax research. In my mind, the evidence against him is overwhelming.
The lesson is that we have to be on guard at home as well as abroad. Whether it be ricin letters or anthrax letters, we are not invulnerable.
There are larger lessons. The Chemical Weapons Convention is the most progressive implementation treaty of any arms control regime. It has very strong implementation machinery. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention needs strengthening, including some of the same mechanisms. It needs a verification protocol, at least as a confidence-building measure.
Furthermore, Canada should support the prohibition of all classes of weapons of mass destruction under strict and effective international control. Canada is party to treaties that ban two of the three classes of WMD: chemical and biological weapons. It should sign up to the treaty that bans the third class, nuclear weapons. The treaty will enter into force next month, unfortunately without Canadian support.
Finally, there are lessons to offer our COVID-affected world. We should consider giving the World Health Organization the powers that the OPCW has in the CWC. These are anywhere, any-time inspections without right of refusal, to using a process of managed access.
I’m happy to discuss these aspects as well as the legislative amendments as you see fit. I can also discuss riot-control agents, which I note is of interest to the committee. I am at your service, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Dr. Dorn, thank you for your presentation. We acknowledge your role in the development of this treaty. It was interesting to hear the background and your own personal involvement. Senator Coyle is the sponsor of this bill.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much for all of that ground that you covered and your leadership role in the development of this convention, Dr. Dorn.
Thank you for mentioning the late Warren Allmand, who was a friend and an alumnus of the university that I can see from my window here in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. I really appreciated that.
I have two questions. You have mentioned ways to do this, but you started off speaking about better ways to enforce international laws. Right now we are talking about the Chemical Weapons Convention. We have seen the difficulties with countries that are signatories to the convention actually complying with the convention or even responding effectively to inspections that have been done, reports from inspections. My first question is about better ways of enforcing this convention or other international laws.
My second question I’ll just ask right now in the interests of time, if I may, Mr. Chair. You did mention the other weapons of mass destruction and the biological as well as nuclear and how Canada has not signed on to the nuclear treaty. I would appreciate hearing your insights as to why we haven’t and why we should. Thank you.
Dr. Dorn: Thank you for that question. Those are really good points.
It’s so important that we create international mechanisms to enforce international law. It’s sadly lacking in the world today. It’s stronger than it ever was in history, thanks to treaties like the Chemical Weapons Convention, but we have to explore more.
One of the ways is by putting pressure on countries like Syria. You already heard that Syria could lose its vote in the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. There should be other mechanisms, automatic responses to violations that have been confirmed. There should be eventually an international court that could hear such cases. If the International Criminal Court in The Hague could hear cases dealing with the four categories of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, then we could have individual accountability and individuals brought before that court. I think we have to strengthen that mechanism. Canada does wonderful work to support the ICC, including chairing the committee that’s choosing the next prosecutor. Very close by is the OPCW. We can do more to support the OPCW. We could provide a designated lab, which we have not yet done, that the OPCW can send samples to.
In international law more generally, the final enforcement provision in the CWC and in most treaties goes to the UN Security Council, where there is a veto by the five permanent members. Finding ways to get around the misuse of the veto is one of the key issues in all of international law.
On the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the main reason, in my mind, that Canada did not sign on and actually opposed the treaty is that, as a member of NATO, it wants to have the same line as the other NATO members, particularly the United States and other nuclear weapons states, such as France and the U.K., that nuclear weapons are the “supreme guarantee” of peace. I find that nuclear weapons are actually the ultimate weapon for the destruction of humanity. The only way to secure them is for their total elimination, just like in the Chemical Weapons Convention. I hope we eventually can have a nuclear weapons convention. In the meantime, we just have a prohibition treaty, which will be entering into force in January as it gains the necessary number of adherents. Hopefully Canada can find wiggle room in order to allow NATO countries to be more positive towards the TPNW and we can find ways where eventually we could sign on to that treaty.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Dorn. We’re going to concentrate our discussion not on the possibility of a treaty on prohibition of nuclear weapons. It’s not a possibility, it’s out there, but not on the Canadian position at this particular meeting, but I thank you for your comments.
Senator Ataullahjan: You mentioned the chemicals used in riot control. I do have an interest in that. We’ve seen that these chemicals can be used by police. I say used; I could also say abused. What would you say to that? There are chemicals that are sometimes used on Canadians.
Dr. Dorn: The Chemical Weapons Convention has a provision that riot control agents shall not be used as a method of warfare. That is a very clear prohibition, and I think it’s fully justified. It does not say all the cases where it could be used, except that riot control agents are allowable for domestic law enforcement purposes. The rules governing the police use of RCAs are governed by different legislation. We have to make sure that these non-lethal weapons — in some cases they can be lethal, but rarely — are not abused.
What I would like to point out is that they can also have important uses in peacekeeping operations, the other area I specialize in. That is important when peacekeepers are in the field and see an atrocity being committed, and they don’t want to use their guns or deadly force. Having a range of options, including CS lacrimator, known as tear gas, is an option that is important. Riot control agents have a role and have been used in peacekeeping operations, including by formed police units of the UN. We should just find better policies and regulations on how they’re actually used, but they should not be disarmed, because they still have a useful function in our society and in our world.
Senator Simons: Thank you, Professor Dorn. I’m envious at the moment. I’m freezing in my upstairs attic, and I’m looking at your fireplace behind you and it looks extremely cozy.
It seems to me that a lot of our chemical weapons legal paradigm is based on the witnessing of mass attacks. Even if you have a country like Iraq that under Saddam Hussein denied using chemical weapons, there it was. You could see it in plain sight. When we’re dealing with the Novichok agents that are before us now, we’re talking very intimate, personal, targeted attacks that were carried out. It seems to be much harder to craft regulation that deals with that as opposed to a mass use of a chemical weapon where there is a tremendous amount of evidence on the site of the use of the weapon. How do we construct a legislative regime that allows us to confront the use of chemical weapons in this sort of boutique, targeted fashion?
Dr. Dorn: That’s a good question. We have mechanisms in law to be able to deal with the violations. In fact, the legislation you’re now looking at is so important in that regard because it makes it a violation of the use of chemical weapons under Canadian law. You will find other laws within Canada that also can cover that, because it could be harmful and deadly and murderous, actually.
We still need better mechanisms. The example of Alexei Navalny is quite illustrative of the power of modern chemistry. Using the analytical tools like gas spectrometers, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS and other tools, we can get a good idea of what chemicals are used. In the case of Alexei Navalny, it was the German scientists who sent their samples to laboratories in France and Sweden and confirmed — and the OPCW had a role in that — that Novichok agents were used for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. That was very important. The forensic tools are now very good. We need that international network to create credibility. Here I would call on Canada to contribute to that network that needs laboratories, of which there are over 20 in the world.
For specific cases, such as the ricin letter that was mailed from near Montreal to Texas and the White House, we need the mechanisms in our postal services for sensing/detection and, of course, to be sensitive about opening mail that could contain these very toxic substances.
I would like to see international law expanded so we could better go down that targeted individual level. We should also be asking the members of the Russian Duma, your colleagues, your fellow parliamentarians, in their penal legislation what provisions are there, because the treaty mandates that they create penal legislation. What penalties have they applied? What have their domestic law enforcement agencies done? By doing so, we’re putting pressure on individuals within foreign countries.
Senator Simons: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Dorn. I just want to follow up on what Senator Simons was asking. You mentioned chemical sensing. Our team has googled you, and we know that your doctorate was on chemical sensing. I’m assuming that was some time ago. Has chemical sensing evolved sufficiently enough to move very aggressively into the detection of nerve agents? You suggested that perhaps more funding would be required, but would you have a comment on that?
Dr. Dorn: There have been huge developments since I was a graduate student, when Finland was leading the way with their VERIFIN program. Canada was a leader in verification technologies. We had scientists helping with the negotiation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The technologies have gotten better. The sensors have gotten smaller. The chemical agent monitors are now more portable. We can do a lot more than we could in those days. We need to equip those who are going in the field, the humanitarian workers in Syria, for instance, with chemical agent monitors so they can be better protected and they can also provide evidence to the mechanisms that the world will eventually hold Syria accountable to.
Senator M. Deacon: As I listen today to you, I am sort of beyond the report. I’m intrigued by the decades that you have served in this area, what you’ve seen from your shy-guy grad school, with all due respect, right through to our conversation today. I look at the three words of “rigour, enforcement, and authentic collaboration.” Those are the three things I’m thinking about as we finish up. You’ve talked about the Criminal Court and how we can use that better. You’ve talked about some other pieces of accountability. Is there anything else that you think, based on where you’ve been and where we need to go, will amplify those three things, the rigour, enforcement, and collaboration?
Dr. Dorn: On a practical level, the OPCW is underfunded and under-resourced. We’re making great contributions through voluntary contributions in addition to our assessed dues.
When the UN started to do inspections jointly with the OPCW in Syria, the Under-Secretary-General put my name forward to be an inspector in Syria, but the UN itself was so poorly equipped to do inspections. They have a role under the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and General Assembly Resolution 37/98D and 42/37C. The UN is so underfunded and under-resourced, even when it does the Joint Investigative Mechanism as it did in Syria. It’s astounding that we couldn’t do more. There was an offer that I could get some training through the Canadian Forces that eventually was turned down because of the danger that something might happen in the field and there might be liability. We have to do more to strengthen the UN. The UN is now suffering a cash crisis. Its disarmament branch is under-resourced.
In the longer term, we need to create enforceable international law on an individual level. The International Criminal Court is a big step in that direction: expand its jurisdiction, expand its investigative capabilities and make it the enforcing mechanism for an ever-increasing realm of international law.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you. I look forward to hearing more over time about the enforcement mechanisms.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Dorn, for joining us today. We appreciate your testimony very much. Stay safe and goodbye.
Dr. Dorn: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Colleagues, we’ll move into our second soft transition. If you agree, we could move to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-2.
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Is it agreed, honourable senators, that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: The motion is carried.
Shall the title stand postponed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: The motion is carried.
Shall clause 1 carry?
Hon. Senators: Carried.
The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?
Hon. Senators: Carried.
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Hon. Senators: Carried.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Hon. Senators: Carry.
The Chair: Is it agreed that I report this bill to the Senate?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you. That’s it.
(The committee adjourned.)