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Great Campaign Events in Canada!

Mines Action Canada and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots hosted a number of events in Ottawa over the past two days to begin the discussion in Canada about autonomous weapons.  We were pleased to have Mary Wareham, Global Coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Advocacy Director, Arms Division at Human Rights Watch along with Peter Asaro, Professor at the New School and Vice-Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) join us and local expert Ian Kerr, in Ottawa for the events.  Be sure to check out the great summary of the events on the Campaign’s website.

The two days started with an op-ed by Ian Kerr who holds the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa and is a member of ICRAC.

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Opening the public event

On April 28th, we met with other peace, disarmament and development organizations to talk about the campaign and to begin to build a stronger civil society presence in Canada on this issue.  There was a lot of a interest from our non-profit colleagues so we look forward to hearing more voices on this issue in the near future.

Later that day, we hosted a public event at Ottawa City Hall.  There was a panel discussion with Peter, Paul, Mary and Ian followed by a rather lively Question and Answer session with the audience.  The audience was generally quite supportive of the Campaign and our efforts to achieve a pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons.  Audience members with backgrounds in engineering, law, the military and politics all expressed concern about the development of killer robots.

The following morning, MAC hosted a breakfast briefing for parliamentarians and their staff, other NGOs and decision makers in Ottawa.  The Bagels and ‘Bots breakfast was the first time some of these decision makers had heard of the issue and it seemed to strike a chord with many in the room.  After breakfast, the team was off to Parliament Hill for a press conference.  At the press conference and in MAC’s press release, campaigners called for Canadian leadership on this issue internationally and for Canada to be the first country in the world to declare a moratorium on the development and production of killer robots.

The media in Ottawa and across the country have taken quite an interest in these events.  The Canadian Press story was picked up in newspapers across the country as well as national media outlets and there was an associated list of facts about killer robots.  The Sun News Network, and Ottawa Citizen also covered the Campaign while MAC has received a number of radio interview requests.  Paul Hannon, Executive Director, was on CKNW Morning News with Philip Till.

One very exciting result of these activities is that The Globe and Mail’s editorial team has come out in support of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and our call:

The world has a long banned some weapons deemed dangerous, indiscriminate or inhumane, including chemical weapons and land mines. Autonomous robot weapons carry all such risks, and add new ones to the list. They are not wielded remotely by humans, but are intended to operate without supervision. They’re about turning life and death decisions over to software. Canada should be a leading voice advocating for a global protocol limiting their development and use.

Also Jian Ghomenshi on CBC Radio’s Q called for Canadian leadership on killer robots, he says that leadership on this issue is something Canadians could be proud of and that it could be a legacy issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Keep Killer Robots Fiction initiative is off to a great start.  You can get involved by signing and sharing the petition at: http://bit.ly/KRpetition.

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The panelists at the Bagels and ‘Bots Breakfast

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Launch Event for Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in Canada

In Ottawa?

Come join us to launch the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in Canada.

Join us at Ottawa City Hall for a panel discussion on fully autonomous weapons, led by Mines Action Canada and including guest speakers:

  • Ian Kerr – Professor, University of Ottawa, and Canada Research Chair for Ethics, Law and Technology (Ottawa, ON)
  • Mary Wareham – Advocacy Director – Arms Division, Human Rights Watch, and Global Coordinator for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (Washington, DC)
  • Peter Asaro – The New School for Public Engagement and Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (New York, NY)
  • Paul Hannon – Executive Director, Mines Action Canada (Ottawa, ON)

Where? : Ottawa City Hall – the Colonel By room
When? : April 28th, 7:00 pm (Doors at 6:45 pm)

Check out the Public Event Flyer for all the details.

Guest Post: Killer Robots in Canadian Context

By Matthew Taylor

There is nothing Canadian about machines that kill people without human control. Machines that have no conscience. Machines that have no compassion. Machines without the ability to distinguish between someone who is a genuine threat and someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We, as a people, have for many years sought to build a safer and more peaceful world. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid in South Africa “the highest priority of the government of Canada in our foreign affairs.”  Former Prime Minister Lester Pearson brought about modern peacekeeping in 1956. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy gathered states in our nation’s capital to end the use of anti-personnel landmines around the world. These men understood that a desire for peace and justice is a basic Canadian value.  That is not something a machine can ever understand.

This issue presents us as Canadians with an opportunity to share our values, and our vision for a safer world. Killer Robots are perhaps the most important international arms control issue to emerge since nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons redefined how we understood and approached warfare. That is why it is so absolutely necessary for the world to confront the problem of killer robots before and not after they see action on the battlefield.

The costs of playing catch up are far too evident. Once weapons are employed, most countries will scramble to re-adjust for the change in balance in power. During World War I chemical weapons were used against Canadian soldiers causing blindness, death and unspeakable suffering. Nearly one hundred years later chemical weapons were being used in Syria causing death and significant harm to civilians. With thousands of casualties of chemical weapons in between, the difficulty of banning weapons once they have been put into use is quite evident.

History has shown that the support and leadership of our nation can bring about international change. We have a duty as moral entrepreneurs to prevent the horror of autonomous killing machines from ever becoming a reality.

In November 2013, states agreed to discuss the question of lethal autonomous robots in meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in May, 2014. This umbrella agreement allows for 117 member states to consider issues of arms control.

But at the moment, the official Canadian government position on Killer Robots is unclear. A government statement in the February 2014 edition of L’actualite offers little insight. In the article, a Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman indicated that Canada does not ban weapons that do not yet exist. But in fact, Canada has participated in a pre-emptive ban of weapons before.

In 1995, Canada was one of the original parties to Protocol IV of the Convention to Conventional Weapons. This international agreement banning blinding lasers was made in the very same forum in whichkiller robots are set to be discussed in May. This not only represents a step in the right direction but a precedent upon which to build.

If a pre-emptive ban has been done before, it can be done again. Whether a weapon exists yet or not should have no bearing on whether the technology should be illegal under international humanitarian law. What should matter is whether we as a people believe that these weapons can ever be considered to be humane. To me, and to many others, the answer to that question is clearly no.

If you feel that as Canadians we must take a stand, please join me in signing our petition to Keep Killer Robots Fiction.

Matthew Taylor is an intern at Mines Action Canada and is a Master of the Arts Candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University specializing in Intelligence and National Security. 

States to work on Killer Robots

Today the States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed to convene a meeting to discuss fully autonomous weapons  or killer robots in May 2014.   Mines Action Canada (MAC), a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, welcomes this historic decision to begin to address this issue.  MAC encourages all states to pursue an international ban on these weapons to ensure there will always be meaningful human control over targeting decisions and the use of violent force.

We are pleased that Canada made its first public statements on this topic during the CCW joining the other 43 nations who have spoken out on fully autonomous weapons since May.  MAC looks forward to working with the Government of Canada to develop national policies on fully autonomous weapons.  Along with our colleagues from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots we hope to see Canada actively participate in the CCW discussions.  Mines Action Canada encourages Canada to take on a leadership role in international efforts to ban fully autonomous weapons and ensure that humans will always have meaningful control over life and death decisions in conflict.

“If we have learned anything from the Canadian led efforts to ban landmines, it is that the world cannot afford to wait until there is a humanitarian crisis to act.  We need a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons before they can cause a humanitarian disaster,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director, Mines Action Canada.

For more details on the CCW mandate, please see the international web site for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Summer Recap

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has been trundling along all summer  sharing our message, reaching out to governments and gaining new supporters,.

There have been some exciting and important developments over the summer.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) launched the newest edition of the International Review of the Red Cross and the theme is New Technologies and Warfare.  A number of campaigners contributed to the journal so it is definitely worth a read.  The ICRC also published a Frequently Asked Questions document on autonomous weapons that helps explain the issue and the ICRC’s position on fully autonomous weapons.

France along with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva convened a seminar on fully autonomous weapons for governments and civil society in early September.  The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots had campaigners taking part and you can read the full report on the global campaign’s website.

The campaigns in Germany and Norway are starting off strong as well.  In the lead up to the German election, all the major parties shared their policy positions in regards to fully autonomous weapons with our colleagues at Facing Finance.  Norwegian campaigners launched their campaign with a breakfast seminar and now they are waiting to hear what the new Norwegian government’s policy on fully autonomous weapons will be.

Like our colleagues in Norway, we’re still waiting to hear what Canada’s policy on fully autonomous weapons will be.  We have written to the Ministers of National Defense and of Foreign Affairs but the campaign team has not yet heard back.  In the meantime, Canadians can weigh in on the topic through our new online petition.  Share and sign the petition today!  This petition is the first part of a new initiative that will be coming your way in a few weeks.  Keep your eye out for the news and until then keep sharing the petition so that the government knows that Canadians have concerns about fully autonomous weapons and believe that Canada should have a strong policy against them.

EDIT:  We had a very human moment here and forgot to include congratulations to James Foy of Vancouver for winning the 2013 Canadian Bar Association’s National Military Law Section Law School Sword and Scale Essay Prize for his essay called Autonomous Weapons Systems: Taking the Human out of International Humanitarian Law.  It is great to see law students looking at this new topic and also wonderful that the Canadian Bar Association recognized the importance of this issue.  Congratulations James!