The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Hon. Maria Minna (Beaches—East York, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying before question period started, this bill cannot be taken lightly and serious questions need to be answered.
One cannot discuss this bill without talking about, for instance, the human rights issue in Colombia. We all know that in the last number of years three million persons have been internally displaced. This figure is astronomical; it is only second to that of Sudan. We see Sudan on the television much more regularly, but we do not see Colombia as often. We see the drug lords, the paramilitary and all that, but we do not really understand when we do not see the three million people who have been displaced.
Who are these people? These are poor people, farmers, people who are being abused. In the first half of 2008 alone, 270,000 people were displaced. This is the highest rate in the past 23 years. This is not a positive trend. It is something that should concern us a great deal.
Again, as in all conflicts around the world, women in particular are vulnerable to the displacement. Women and children always bear the brunt of any conflict or any instability. This is nothing new, and it is no different in Colombia. We see this again. It shows up in our figures.
This is occurring in areas that are rich in crops, rich in minerals and rich in oil and gas. What does that mean? This is land that has a lot to offer. It means that Canadian companies that may be exploring for gas, for minerals would actually be in this area. The economic development taking place would be in those areas where people have been forced off their lands and sometimes killed.
The people are being displaced by the millions. It is not by a few, but by the millions, not that any would be acceptable. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been watching and monitoring this for some time.
The economic development in these areas would be at the expense of millions of people who would be forced off their lands. Many have already been forced off their lands. This goes very much to a justice issue and to a human rights issue.
Innocent civilians, mostly rural people, are the ones who are paying the price in a different way. As some of us may know, there was a push on the part of the government to identify and kill the paramilitaries and the drug lords. What happened is what we call false positives. Innocent civilians have been killed and are being killed by Colombian military, then they are dressed up as rebels and being used as proof that rebels were killed in combat.
President Uribe from Colombia had initially backed the military saying that none of this was true, but he later announced 27 soldiers and 3 generals were being dismissed as the result of 11 specific killings. This is a horrible situation. In addition to the displacement, innocent people are being killed and dressed up in pretense of the bodies being paramilitary.
It seems that the military is under tremendous pressure to demonstrate that it is actually succeeding and getting rid of the paramilitaries, the drug lords and so on, but killing innocent people and putting them forward as such is not the answer. Again, that is a horrendous human rights abrogation that needs to be 100% stopped, not just in part. There are over 1,000 victims, dating back 2003. Many of these young people from poor areas were actually paraded in such a manner. I think this is totally unacceptable. We need to take these things into consideration when we look at this trade bill.
For years, President Uribe publicly denied that the problem even existed. However, as we have seen, he fired members of his own military when he was forced to deal with the fact that it is happening, and it continues to happen to this day, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Corruption is another critical area. Politicians and military being linked to paramilitaries and drug lords is a common discussion. Again, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International continue to talk about this and continue to mention the crises in this area.
Because of this, it is essential that the government does a human rights impact assessment before any free trade agreement is implemented or passed in the House. A human rights impact assessment is absolutely critical to ascertain what is happening, to what extent innocent people are being killed, abducted and removed every day for the sake of economic progress.
These recommendations are not new and they are not new to the government. In fact, all the government members supported it. The recommendations from the report of the Standing Committee on International Trade entitled “Human Rights, the Environment and Free Trade with Colombia” stated that improvements needed with regard to displacement, labour laws and accountability for crime have to happen before a bill goes through and that government must show a more constructive attitude to human rights groups in the country, again, before any bill goes through.
This again was supported by all members on all sides of the House. None of these recommendations were considered before an agreement was signed in November 2008, before the report was even tabled in the House. I find that very disturbing. The reason the standing committee did all that work was to address these issues. They need to be addressed in this instance; otherwise, we will be an accomplice, in a sense, to what is going on.
Let us look for a moment at labour. Colombia has led the world in the killing of trade unionists. Some 2,600 people have died since 1986. Just imagine, 2,600 unionists, union leaders, trade leaders have died since 1986. If that were to happen anywhere else in the world, we would be appalled. This is what is happening in Colombia. Mostly this has been attributed to paramilitary groups who have deliberately targeted unionists who have been getting in the way, by giving people rights, employment rights. The paramilitary does not want any of that.
More than 400 of them were killed under Uribe's government. So the killings go on. While it has come down somewhat, it is still going on, and 60% of all trade union related deaths in the world occurred in Colombia last year. That is a huge number.
As a result of pressure, some changes have happened in Colombia. Some of the pressure has come from the United States. Violence has been the major roadblock for the U.S. government signing the FTA with Colombia, so Colombia has made some efforts to deal with the problems of impunity and in the justice system. That has brought down some of the problem, but it has not resolved it.
In response, again to the U.S. Congress, Colombia was prompted to work with international labour organizations to improve the situation of trade unionists being killed or abducted. All this activity has resulted in the appointment of specialized staff for a prosecutor's office to effectively prosecute those responsible for assassination of union members.
That is a good move, obviously, and some things are beginning to change. However, when we look at the statistics, in 97% of the cases there have been no convictions. The convictions were consistently low under Uribe, but they jumped to 43% in 2007, and 53% as of October, resulting from pressure from the U.S. Again, the lack of convictions was high in the early parts of Uribe's administration and they have jumped up. With the insistence and with pressure from the United States and others, we can see that is having some impact.
The labour side agreement that is part of the bill is not as strong as the NAFTA labour agreement and the government is subject to a fine to a maximum of $15 million but this does not help labour in any way. Labour does not have a say. Labour is not part of the dispute mechanism and therefore it does not improve the situation in any way. Again, not only does the labour agreement need to be stronger than NAFTA but not weaker. That needs to have a proper assessment. It needs to be looked at and it needs to be assessed.
The tribunal that has been set up for disputes I do not think will be very effective. As I said, it does not have legal representation on the tribunal. We cannot have a situation where money is fined but the government makes the decisions and labour is not part of it. Labour is an intrinsic part of this. What has been happening to the labour movement in Colombia is absolutely atrocious. It is an issue of human rights. In order to protect the labour movement, it needs to be part and parcel of the decision and the side deal needs to be strengthened. Otherwise, it will be meaningless.
President Uribe indicated more recently that he wants to amend the constitution to run for a third time, which is another troublesome part of this whole area. He now has a popular rating approval of 70% to 80%, so this is not out of the realm of possibility that he will actually do this. However, this would have serious implications for democracy if this were to move forward. Yes, he has support of 70% to 80% because to some degree violence has come down, but it does not address the large number of issues that I just mentioned before in regard to the large number of people who have been displaced, the labour movement and corruption.
It is very troublesome when a government comes to the end of its term and then decides to amend the constitution to give itself more time. That is not the mark of a strong democracy nor will it help to stabilize the situation in Colombia.
In several instances Uribe has denied problems existed but then has only acted under pressure from the U.S. when it found that in fact there was a problem and he had to hold the assassins of the trade unionists accountable.
I can give other examples. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out that an arrangement was made with the United States to extradite drug lords to the U.S. to be tried only for drug trafficking and not for the human rights atrocities and for the killings and murders that they committed in Colombia. Some of them have been convicted for up to 20 years in jail but are not facing war criminal charges.
Again, the international community should be concerned about this. By extraditing them to the U.S. to be tried under drug laws is serious, but it is almost nothing compared to what they should be getting. They should be tried in the proper courts for crimes against humanity. This is something that needs to be looked at and discussed. Serious human rights implications must be addressed and are not being addressed. This is why an independent human rights impact assessment is needed before any document is signed. It is needed badly. As I said at the outset, the Conservative government is moving toward tied aid. This is an area that really bothers me to no end tremendously.
If a South American country wants aid, then it had better sign a free trade agreement, it seems. This what the government seems essentially to be saying. If there is a free trade agreement, then there will be aid. Aid should not be tied to a free trade agreement and should not be tied to Canada's economic success. It should be untied aid. Otherwise, we are being total hypocrites and we might as well shut down the Canadian International Development Agency completely. This is totally unacceptable.
That is why the government is abandoning Africa. Again, it goes back to that. We do not hear any economic bilateral agreement in any of the discussion with Africa.
We must ask a number of questions. Tied aid is unacceptable. Tying our economic success to free trade is not acceptable. We should be working for the benefit of the country. That is what international aid is about.
The government should slow the bill down and do a human rights impact assessment immediately because that has a social impact as well. A stronger labour side agreement needs to happen. What we have now is not good enough.
A CIDA assessment needs to be done. The House is owed a report from the minister responsible for CIDA telling us what kind of development assessment CIDA has done and what it has to say about how this trade agreement would impact the poor people of Colombia. Is it going to hurt them or is it going to benefit them? If the balance of the trade agreement is negative for the poor people of Colombia, then the government and Parliament has no business approving this document.
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l'Île, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-23. I will start by giving the main reasons why we are opposed to this bill, and then I will explain some of those reasons.
It seems to us that the federal government's main motivation in entering into this free trade agreement is not trade—members will see why we say that—but investment, because the agreement contains a chapter on investment protection. The agreement will therefore make things easier for Canadian investors, especially in the mining sector, and we know that there is considerable interest in investing in Colombia.
That is the main motivation, in our opinion, but judging by all the investment protection agreements Canada has signed over the years, the one that would bind Canada and Colombia would be ill conceived.
All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue the local government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment. Such clauses are especially dangerous in a country where labour and environmental protection laws are uncertain at best. By protecting a Canadian investor against any improvement in living conditions in Colombia, such an agreement could delay social and environmental progress in this country, where the need for progress is great. This is serious, and I would like to hear what my Liberal colleague has to say about it.
In fact, Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and certainly in Latin America. To advance human rights around the world, governments—those willing, that is—use a carrot and stick approach. They support efforts to improve respect for human rights and reserve the right to take away privileges if progress slides back.
With this free trade agreement, Canada would forego any ability to bring pressure to bear. In fact, not only would it give up the possibility of using the carrot and stick approach, but it would be surrendering all power to the Colombian government.
To convince us of its good intentions, the government keeps saying that this agreement would come with a companion agreement on labour and another one on the environment. The fact of the matter is that such agreements are notoriously ineffective. Unless they are part of the free trade agreement, which they are not, investors could destroy with impunity Colombia's rich natural environment, displace populations to facilitate mine development or continue murdering unionists. Companion agreements cannot be used against any of this if they are not part of the free trade agreement.
As for the free trade agreement per se, the Bloc Québécois is against trading off the government's ability to press for human rights to provide Canadian corporations with foreign investment opportunities.
We must ask ourselves what is the purpose of a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia like the one with Peru. I could quote figures, but for the benefit of those listening, I will simply say that statistics do not show a substantial increase in trade, but only a slight one.
This situation is an exception to the usual signing of a free trade agreement, because they are usually made between special trading partners who trade sufficiently to make it worthwhile to lower trade barriers.
The Colombian market and trade with Colombia are not particularly sizeable. The products Canada primarily sells there, such as western grain, can be sold easily elsewhere, especially during this crisis, and Quebec and Canadian exporters will see only limited benefit at best from the conclusion of this agreement.
Some Canadian businesses might be interested, but we fail to see what attraction there might be for people in Quebec and Canada. In fact, from what we can see, this free trade agreement mostly protects Canadian investors and investments in the mining sector. That is of greater interest to Canadian investors and to the government, which is sensitive to their lobbying.
I have to say here that we do not oppose investment agreements, but we oppose bad investment agreements, and this appears to be one.
Indirect foreign investment is growing exponentially. In order to create a predictable environment and ensure that a foreign investor does not end up losing his assets or being nationalized without compensation—this is the example always cited, as happened with oil in some instances—countries conclude treaties to protect investments. We have nothing against that.
The first Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, the FTA, which included a section on investment protection, chapter 16, was the first agreement in the world to include a dispute resolution mechanism, which the two countries could use. I emphasize that it was between Canada and the United States, two countries with major trading activities and able to negotiate for their mutual benefit.
There was a dispute resolution mechanism available to the two countries. The agreement worked well. No discriminatory measures were taken against a foreign investor and no case was submitted to the arbitration tribunal. And yet, during the five years the agreement was in force, the value of Canadian investments rose by 41%. So it was not a bad agreement.
However, when it came to negotiating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico, these three countries driving the negotiations wanted to change the agreement on investment because of unreasonable concerns about the risks run by investors in Mexico.
Under chapter 11, foreign investors may apply directly to international tribunals, circumventing the filter of public good provided by the governments. This is not insignificant. It means that companies can apply on their own to international tribunals, whereas under the FTA, governments alone could do so. That is a big difference.
The results can be very different depending on whether companies or countries make such applications.
The word expropriation had a specific meaning in chapter 16 and a different one in chapter 11. It is so broad a concept that any legislation that might have the effect of reducing an investor’s profits can be deemed expropriation and result in a lawsuit. Foreign investors are allowed to go before international tribunals. Moreover, they can interpret the law in such a way that, if the government of a particular country passes legislation that reduces the value of their investments in any way at all, they can equate these losses to expropriation and launch a lawsuit. The amount of the suit is not limited to the value of the investment but includes all possible future profits. It is very abusive.
This chapter was denounced by everyone. If legislation to protect the environment reduces a foreign investor’s profits, the government is exposed to fabulous lawsuits. Despite all that, Ottawa signed several bilateral agreements over the years that are copied from chapter 11 of NAFTA. The criticism reached such a pitch, though, that the Liberals eventually stopped signing these kinds of agreements.
I want to digress a bit. I took part in the election in which Jean Chrétien promised to do all he could about the free trade agreement, the FTA. We know what happened then. Not only did he sign it, but he went on to conclude several others and became the great propagandist of free trade agreements. Under the Conservatives, Ottawa is back on the offensive and negotiating numerous agreements of this kind. In the one with Colombia, the Conservative government cedes to multinationals the right to determine the public interest.
The Bloc Québécois will therefore oppose the bill to implement this free trade agreement because of the clauses it contains that are copied from chapter 11 of NAFTA. We want the government to return to the old format for these agreements, which did not give the multinationals a free hand at the expense of the public interest. We are in favour of free trade, but not under any conditions at all.
We do not want conditions that will make people’s lives worse, especially when the people in question have no other recourse, like the Colombians in this case. They have virtually no individual or trade union rights and are at the mercy of investors whose strong, violent mercenaries will stop at nothing to achieve their ends.
A number of other members and I met with some individuals—trade unionists and people from NGOs—who had been designated by the people in villages under siege from multinationals to come and explain the situation to us.
There are human rights abuses. The Conservatives tell us over and over that things are improving and the situation is less catastrophic than before. The truth is that the human rights situation is quite a bit worse than it used to be. Most violations are committed by paramilitary groups and human rights workers are worried about the ties between these groups and the government.
I have a few statistics. In 2008, the crimes committed by these paramilitary groups increased by 41% in comparison with a 14% increase the previous year. There was a 9% increase in the proportion of crimes committed by government security forces. Even though the number of crimes is rising, the perpetrators remain as immune as ever. Only 3% of crimes end in a conviction. It is impossible to say under these conditions that there is any respect for human rights.
As for workers' rights, we realize this is one of the world's worst places for respecting them. Trade unionists are targeted for their activities. I have met a number of them. They told us they cannot not live freely. They are in hiding constantly. They are afraid of being shot point blank. And their fear is not groundless, because, since 1986, 2,690 trade unionists have been assassinated. It could be said that the number of murders has decreased somewhat, but, in 2007, 39 unionists were murdered—nearly one a week—and, in 2008, 48 were murdered. This is not a situation in which union members can be said to be able to exercise their right to exert pressure. As one union vice-president put it, thousands of people have disappeared, and unions continue to be persecuted.
Population displacement in Colombia is often the result of conflicts opposing government security forces, paramilitary groups and guerrillas. However, economic displacement is increasingly frequent. In most cases, the people displaced receive no compensation. Various means are used to force people from a given location: pressure tactics, threats, murders and land flooding. There are also stories of the many people living in small villages, in clearings near the sites of mines rich in various minerals, being forcibly moved off in all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable ways in order to make room for investors. There is nowhere for them to go. The American State Department and Amnesty International say that another 305,000 persons were displaced in 2007. There had been a lot before then. In 2008, over 380,000 persons had to flee their homes. In fact, since 1985, nearly 4.6 million persons have been forced to leave their homes and their land.
The Conservative government can go on saying that the human rights situation has improved, but Colombia is second only to Sudan in the greatest number of internally displaced persons. That is really something. That is an understatement. Would Canada be prepared to sign a free trade agreement with Sudan?
There may of course be side deals, but I have said such agreements are ineffective. I see no way of improving this agreement without it being changed very significantly.
As we do not see any such improvements appearing, we think that the free trade agreement presented here for implementation will in no way help the people of Colombia, Quebec and Canada.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as we debate Bill C-23 today, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, we join with other nations and their leaders as they ponder the issue of free trade in general and free trade with Colombia specifically. With the current turmoil we find in the global economic system and within major economies across the world, including our own, there is a natural inclination to pause with respect to trade agreements like the one we debate today.
While there is a temptation to close the doors and shutter down during the economic storm, for countries like Canada trade is at the very core of our prosperity. We are a trading nation and we rely on the success of our trade relationships for economic growth and continued prosperity.
In times like these it is tempting to show reluctance for open trade and in its place to seek protectionist policies. However, we only need to look to the 1930s and the passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariff act in the United States that was protectionist in nature and that clearly contributed to the further collapse of the world economic system.
My point is simply that trade for a country like ours is essential and must be encouraged.
Free trade relationships can be of significant advantage for Canada and for emerging economies with which we sign agreements as they continue their development process.
The question at hand today is not only the beneficial effects of free trade relationships but the ancillary issues that we must consider when entering into such agreements.
Colombia is certainly a nation that has struggled almost since its inception as the Republic of Colombia in 1886, We note that what is now modern day Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903. From the point of arrival of Spanish explorers in 1499 through to independence of 1819 and the departure of Gran Colombia, as it was known then by the current nations of Venezuela and Ecuador, Colombia has known periods of considerable instability.
In more modern times, we also reflect sadly upon the tumultuous 40-year civil conflict that has claimed between 70,000 and 100,000 lives. Through it all, Colombia has struggled to grow economically, socially and politically.
Despite internal conflicts that affect Colombia, for a period of almost 30 years, beginning in 1970, the country's gross domestic products grew at an average rate of 4% per year. A recessionary period in 1999 consumed the nation for several years but into the new century growth was steady and in 2007 it was 8.2% of GDP.
The International Monetary Fund reported Colombia's GDP at $202 billion U.S. dollars in 2007. This was the fourth largest economy in South America. It must be conceded, however, that while these numbers are impressive, much of the wealth has remained concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of the country's population and this must be addressed in the future.
While a seemingly chronic issue for developing nations, it is something we must keep in mind as we debate Bill C-23 and the potential benefits that we hope will accrue to the general population of Colombia.
Colombia's economy has strong areas of growth and interesting aspects to it. For example, the massive United States market is supplied with 70% of its imported flowers from the nation of Colombia alone. In 2007, the American publication Business Week magazine named Colombia the “most extreme emerging economy on earth”.
Colombia's modern history was significantly altered with the election of the current president in August 2002. President Alvaro Uribe Velez has certainly changed the political landscape of Colombia. His administration has been marked by reform, significant progress on the internal conflict that has ravaged Colombia and a more practical approach to the economic challenges that have faced his country.
It is important to note that the presidency is set to change in 2010 when President Uribe reaches the constitutional limits and, therefore, cannot seek re-election. However, if a referendum recently approved by the Colombian Senate proceeds, he will have the opportunity to seek a third term. Most people will, of course, hope that reform and continuing economic growth will continue regardless of this political reality.
This abbreviated picture of Colombia's political and economic status is important as we consider Bill C-23, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement that is before this House today. While economics and politics are enormous, when considering the approval of the free trade agreement with any nation so, too, are issues of social justice and civility.
Significant concerns have been expressed by various groups and individuals as the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is being debated not only in this House but across Canada. Just yesterday in The Toronto Star, the editorial board of the newspaper bluntly stated, in reference to Bill C-23, that “the bill deserves closer scrutiny”.
While we in Canada debate this free trade agreement, we are joined in such deliberations by the United States officials, most notably in the senate where ratification of the treaty signed by the previous administration in 2006 proceeds quite slowly.
The new president, Barack Obama, has enunciated his support of the United States-Colombia free trade agreement. However, there are concerns within the senate with respect to the situation in Colombia that could result in considerable delay in the passage of this treaty in the United States. President Obama's trade representative, Ron Kirk, is currently working with senators to “find a way forward”.
With our largest trading partner, the United States, looking closely at its treaty, we can all be assured that what we do here in Canada will at least have some impact upon the American lawmakers. It is unlikely that should the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement pass here, the United States advocates of their treaty would not point out the possibility of putting their business at a disadvantage to their Canadian counterparts if the United States senate delayed too long.
With that in mind, we must look closely at the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, both from the perspective of our own country and the potential benefits to the average Colombian who might stand to benefit from improved trade relations.
In terms of Canada's economic interests, we export goods valued at approximately $703 million per year. Colombia exports approximately $643 million worth of goods to Canada. In context, Canada's 2008 gross domestic product was nearly $1.5 trillion. Canadian companies have approximately $750 million invested in Colombia.
The reality is simply that while Colombia is creating an emerging nation in South America and one of importance, current trade between Canada and Colombia remains relatively small. However, a ratified free trade agreement with Canada is significant both in terms of potential investment and trade but also more indirectly in terms of the statement it makes both domestically here in Canada and internationally with nations across the world considering similar arrangements.
In that context, what are some of the concerns that are being expressed by groups and individuals here in Canada and in other parts of the world? Human rights concerns are at the forefront of the statements being made by the various groups.
By way of example, today the lower house in Switzerland has received a letter signed by 33 non-governmental organizations asking that their country delay ratification of a European Union-Colombia free trade arrangement until their concerns are addressed with respect to human rights in Colombia. The letter speaks of what they call “serious and systematic” human rights violations.
Only a few days ago, the Reverend David Giuliano, the Moderator of the United Church of Canada, wrote that he “believed our trade needs to be restricted by ethical, environmental and moral considerations”.
One source of the concerns with respect to Bill C-23 originated with the labour movement both in Canada and in other nations. Indeed, the national director of the United Steelworkers in Canada has announced it will host Colombia lawyer Yessika Hoyos Morales in Ottawa this week, as it enunciates its position with respect to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Ms. Hoyos Morales is the daughter of the trade unionist who was murdered in Colombia eight years ago.
Many international human rights groups continue to express their concern about the arbitrary action with respect to labour leaders and labour movement activities in Colombia. Labour leaders across Canada and around the world report that over 2,700 labour leaders have been killed in Colombia over the past 10 years.
The issue of human rights is also a concern outside the labour movement in Colombia. The civil war and the conduct of paramilitary organizations is of grave concern to many observers throughout the world. For much of the most troubling period of the civil war in Colombia the loss of innocent lives at the hands of paramilitary organizations was characteristic of a seriously troubled nation.
A further area of concern centres on the ongoing problem of the illegal narcotics trade that has so troubled Colombia and the nations in which these drugs create incomprehensible social problems, including the criminal activities associated with the importation of illegal drugs.
It is reported that the Colombian drug cartels continue to supply virtually all the cocaine that is used illegally in the United States and is the most significant supplier to other nations in the world.
The effects of this problem is of course not only to be found in the United States, but also in Canada and within Colombia itself.
This ongoing problem must be addressed is there is to be any long-term stability for Colombia and if the country is to take its place in the world as a truly emerging economy, particularly within the context of the South American region.
These issues clearly need to be addressed and which we, as legislators, must take into consideration balanced, of course, by the significant progress that has been made over the last number of years, particularly by President Uribe's administration.
Many will argue quite legitimately that by engaging nations like Colombia in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements we are likely to encourage them to participate more fully within the world community. In so doing we can help them with many of the concerns that are raised both on a national and international level.
It is important and absolutely essential that as we debate Bill C-23, we weigh these issues against what is widely recognized as profound and significant progress that has taken place in Colombia over the past few years.
President Uribe is generally recognized to have a high level of support among Colombians as a result of his success in creating greater stability in the country and as a result a more vibrant and progressive economy.
The many successes of recent years against the FARC rebels has spread hope among Colombians that even greater stability can be achieved and therefore economic progress that would normally follows.
While much of the success that has been achieved in this area by the Colombian government fails to garner international headlines, we periodically witness profound success in this conflict.
In 2008 we witnessed the spectacular freeing of the former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, after having been held captive by rebels for almost six and a half years.
Kidnappings, a chronic problem in Colombia, have decreased in recent years, under President Uribe's leadership, to a 20 year low. Similarly the actions of paramilitary groups on the right have long been a terrible part of Colombia's modern history.
The Colombian government in recent years, through negotiations and enforcement action, has succeeded in reducing the action of these right-wing groups.
While there continues to be challenges that are certainly significant and the recently discovered involvement by some political figures is troubling, we must encourage the government to ensure that these individuals are being held to account. It is important that progress, however difficult, is indeed taking place.
In the area of criminal and civil strife, it is reported that homicides in Colombia have been reduced by 49% since 2002. Kidnappings, as noted before, are down by a percentage in the range of 85%.
We should also be concerned with respect to the displacement of people affected by the conflict within Colombia. It has been reported that over the course of the conflict, over three million Colombians have been displaced. These numbers are of course disturbing in a country with a population currently in the range of 45 million people. However, it is also important to note that from 2002 to the present, it has been reported that displacements of people have been significantly reduced.
Since 2002, the Colombian government has worked to improve health care for its citizens and infrastructure, particularly roads projects which are essential to improved domestic and international trade.
In terms if the illicit narcotics trade, progress has been made in the area as well. It has been reported that the amount of planting of illegal narcotics has in fact been reduced by 18% this past year after several years of increases.
My objective today has been to present both the legitimate concerns of many groups and individuals and also the points that have been put forward to support free trade and thus greater progress for Colombia.
As legislators, we are obliged to consider all aspects of the realities facing Colombia, its difficulties and successes as we move forward. We will always want to encourage Colombia to create an environment that helps all Colombians to achieve their fullest potential, live in safety and security and participate more fully in their country's political, economic and social life.
I encourage members to consider in a fair and balanced way all the issues associated with the debate on free trade with Colombia as we consider this issue both in the House and across the country.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak in opposition to this bill. From the very good work the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has done, we know that Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, is deeply flawed.
We have heard members in the House say that New Democrats are against trade. That is simply not the case. What New Democrats have consistently called for is fair trade. When we are talking about fair trade, it is important to talk about the fact that fair trade includes rules and agreements that promote sustainable practices, domestic job creation and healthy working conditions while allowing us to manage a supply of goods, promote democratic rights abroad and maintain democratic sovereignty at home.
Healthy working conditions include human rights. That is the aspect of this particular set of agreements that I want to focus on today. We have heard members say a number of times in the House that things have improved. I want to quote from a number of different reports which state that that is simply not the case. “Making a Bad Situation Worse: An Analysis of the Text of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement” is an extensive report that looks at many aspects, including labour rights, the labour side of the agreement, the “Investment” chapter in the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, market access in agriculture and the environmental side of the agreement.
I want to focus on the human rights aspect. I want to quote from that report, because the people behind the report are the ones who have done the work. They are the people who can speak with credibility to what is happening in Colombia right now. They state in that report:
|| Trade can support development and the realization of human rights, if it brings benefits to vulnerable populations and allows states, who are willing, to promote developmental outcomes and protect the environment. But neither the political conditions in Colombia nor the terms of the Canada-Colombia FTA provide these reassurances. Indeed, while Canadians were promised that this agreement had been tailored to take account of human rights concerns, in fact the agreement turns out to be a standard “market-access” oriented trade deal, with ineffectual side agreements on labour and the environment.
|| Colombian civil society and human rights organizations have been clear: they do not want this agreement.
|| Ratification of this deal provides Canadian political support to a regime in Colombia that is deeply implicated in gross violations of human rights and immersed in a spiralling political scandal for links to paramilitary death squads. Canada’s own process is marked by secrecy and a disregard for the deliberations of parliament....
|| The FTA will hit small-scale farmers with low-price competition, and may further expose indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and rural dwellers to land grabs by Canadian mining companies equipped with powerful new investor rights, but no binding responsibilities.
In their executive summary conclusion, they state:
|| In 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) concluded that the FTA with Colombia should not proceed without further improvements in the human rights situation in Colombia and without a comprehensive and independent human rights impact assessment (HRIA). It also called for legislated provisions on corporate social responsibility to address the implementation of universal human rights standards by Canadian entities investing in Colombia.
What we have heard so far in the House, particularly from the Liberals, is that we should go ahead with this agreement and trust that human rights will happen as a result of it. This is despite the fact that the Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that there be a human rights assessment. I would argue that that human rights assessment needs to be done in advance of signing any agreement, because we know what happens when there are signed agreements. There are often very few enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure that those kinds of side agreements, whether they are about human rights, environment or agriculture, are actually implemented and enforced.
I want to touch on a couple of key areas of the agreement. It is stated in “Making a Bad Situation Worse”:
|| Substantive labour rights protections remain in a side agreement rather than in the body of the agreement. Enforcement of these rights is entirely at the discretion of the signatory governments.
|| Unlike the provisions for investors’ rights, the agreement offers no trade sanctions, such as the imposition of countervailing duties or the abrogation of preferential trade status, in the event that a Party fails to adhere to the labour rights provisions.
|| The CCFTA investment chapter pays mere lip service to corporate social responsibility, with “best-efforts” provisions, which are purely voluntary and completely unenforceable.
We have heard members in this House say that somehow these trade agreements are going to make everything fine, yet we know that the enforcement and compliance provisions are very weak. Why would we trust that the side agreements would actually be implemented?
In the document, “Background to the Canada-Colombia Trade Agreement”, there is a chapter titled, “A Human Rights Crisis—Crimes Against Humanity”. It states that independent Colombian and international human rights organizations are unequivocal that human rights violations in Colombia remain rampant. In the last few years, some numbers have gone down, for example kidnappings, while others have gone up, for example, extrajudicial executions, forced displacements and disappearances. There was a sharp rise in killings of trade unionists in 2008, last year. Overall the level of impunity in violations is egregiously high.
A number of independent bodies have examined what is happening in Colombia. International human rights organizations and Colombian human rights organizations talk about the continuing egregious violations of human rights, yet we are being asked to support this agreement in principle.
We have talked about corporate social responsibility. There have been private members' bills that have asked the House to implement corporate social responsibility internationally. It is stated in the document:
|| The investment chapter pays mere lip service to corporate social responsibility. Article 816 observes that each party “should encourage enterprises operating within its territory or subject to its jurisdiction to voluntarily incorporate internationally recognized standards of corporate social responsibility in their internal policies.” This is a “best efforts” provision—purely voluntary and completely unenforceable. Similar ineffectual language on corporate social responsibility is also found in the agreement’s preamble.
Once again we have voluntary provisions, unenforceable best efforts. That simply is not good enough. If Canada is signing on to free trade agreements, we need to ensure that, as we talk about fair trade, we are not in a race to the bottom, but that we are looking at environmental, social and human rights standards that we would like to see across the board. Simply putting in place non-enforceable voluntary provisions is not good enough.
I want to touch for one moment on the report, “Forever Solidarity: A public sector trade union report on Colombia union report on Colombia”. In 2008 a number of trade union leaders went to Colombia for an up-close look at what was going on. I want to focus for one moment on the indigenous aspects of this.
We have been asked to trust that the Conservatives would negotiate an agreement that would take into consideration human rights. I want to turn for one moment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Conservative government refused to have Canada sign on to this declaration. There are many articles that would directly apply to indigenous people in Colombia, but I want to reference article 18, which states:
|| Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision making institutions.
Elsewhere in the declaration it talks about free prior and informed consent.
The Conservative government refused to sign on to the UN declaration. We know that there are gross human rights violations in Colombia against indigenous people. We are supposed to accept in good faith that the Conservative government, which does not support that UN declaration, will work toward making sure human rights are implemented through a free trade agreement.
This is what the trade union leaders found with respect to indigenous people:
|| We met with the poorest of the poor families displaced from their homes by paramilitary groups to benefit transnational companies, some of them Canadian, wanting to expand agriculture production, mining and other business interests. We were told that more than 4 million people, 10 per cent of the population, have been displaced without reparations.
|| We sat with single mothers and grandmothers who have no drinkable water, no sewage, no electricity, little money for food, and no chance of their children ever going to school. These citizens, largely from rural areas, must beg for a living on city streets.
The Permanent Peoples' Tribunal had two years of hearings, in six sectors of the Colombian economy, including the public sector, and it came out with a report. This is some of what that report talked about:
|| In the extraordinary case of indigenous peoples, the report cited widespread acts of cultural and community genocide. Twenty-eight indigenous groups are in “imminent danger of physical and cultural extinction” and 18 of the communities have less than ten members. They “are suspended between life and death.” The report went on to cite a horrifying list of human and labour rights abuses that is shocking the world.
Under the “indigenous peoples described displacement process”, in the same report, the president of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia described the struggle of indigenous peoples in the Colombia socio-political context. “Neither pro-government nor pro-guerilla”, he asserted the claims of indigenous people to their ancestral land and their right to development. It goes on to talk about the fact that indigenous peoples have been chased away from their lands by the colonizers and that they have been fighting for their survival ever since.
Nowadays, there is a speeding up of the process. The indigenous peoples constitute 4% of the population but 8% of the displaced people. Every means are used to expel them: pressures, threats and murder. It is clear that neo-colonialism is firmly entrenched in Colombia.
The labour leaders heard presentations about the relation between transnational corporations and the displacement of indigenous groups. The Uribe government is handing over protected lands and parks to the international tourist trade to set up so-called eco-tourist sites, causing wide displacement of aboriginal peoples.
I could go on. This report has case after case of indigenous peoples being displaced from their lands. There has been no compensation, no consultation, no consideration of the protection of their culture, language and rights.
We are expected to believe that this free trade agreement is going to be good for the human rights of people in Colombia, for the residents of Colombia and the indigenous peoples of Colombia. Why would we trust that when the current Conservative government refused to sign on to the UN declaration of indigenous rights? I would argue that based on much of the information we have seen, there is no reason to trust that human rights will be protected or enhanced under this free trade agreement.
I want to briefly touch on more of the track record of human rights. I touched on the indigenous issue. I want to talk about the falsos positivos, that is, the false-positives. These are cases reported by units of the armed forces as positive results in their action against illegal armed groups that are reported in official reports as deaths under combat of insurgent actors and by other legitimate actions, according to the IHL. Later, given the denouncements of social organizations and human rights defenders, direct victims or their families, or by the local and international media, they have been revealed to be actions against non-combatant civilian populations, constituting serious violations against human rights and international human law.
The actions tracked by our databank have three main motives: political persecution, social intolerance, and abuse or excessive authority. The specific modalities of victimization in which our database categorizes human rights violations are, among others, extrajudicial executions, intentional homicide of protected persons, torture, injuries, individual or collective threats, disappearances and use of civilians as human shields.
This is a report that comes from the Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy. It is a special report on the balance of the second semester of 2008, and it was issued in April 2009. This report implies a decrease in 149 cases that occurred in 2007, but an increase in relationship to the 68 cases registered in 2006. It goes on to say that “according to denouncements made by families of victims and social organizations, the degree of influence that the official forces have had in these crimes against humanity seriously undermines the legitimacy of the military and police forces across the country”.
It goes on to talk about the fact that the military and police forces are complicit in misrepresenting the data about disappearances, about murders. These are well-documented cases.
I want to quickly refer to one other report called “Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia: In the Dock and Under the Gun”. This report has page after page of cases where people have been arrested or detained and then cites that either the judiciary, the police or the armed forces were simply wrong in what they had done.
I want to quote a case. This was in 2008. The president of the Permanent Committee of Human Rights was detained along with 15 other union and social leaders. They were detained by the National Police and a number of other forces. The signs of defects in the investigation cited that this person's detention, Sandoval, appeared related to his human rights advocacy, because he criticized the government's human rights record, especially on such issues as arbitrary detention, forced displacement and extrajudicial executions.
That is just one case. There are many more. I want to talk about a couple of the defects in the investigations because it shows how widespread and serious they are. We have heard members in this House talk about the fact that things are getting better, but this was in 2008.
We had other cases, in 2007, where the report says, “recklessly and with bad faith in trying to lead the proceedings, disrespecting her authority”. They were talking about the tribunal in this case. They went on to dismiss the complaints.
In another case, the former president of the Association of Displaced People, it said, “the only evidence against him was reintegrated witness testimony, which alleged that Torres gave information to the guerrilla resulting in the death of two people”. However, one of the people who supposedly died subsequently came forward to testify. Unless one can do that from the grave, I am sure we have a case of manipulated witness testimony.
I want to talk about other signs of defects in investigations. This was from members of the Civilian Community for Life and Peace, a group of displaced citizens working to reclaim their land without intervention by members of the armed conflict. They were arrested in 2006. They were detained after there was wiretapping to start an investigation for kidnapping. The person arrested was found innocent because the judge found that evidence was insufficient and that Perdomo had merely provided personal gifts to her sister, which did not constitute criminal activity. Furthermore, the judge questioned the credibility and expertise of the author of the intelligence report.
A lawyer and professor at the university was arrested in 2006 for the crime of rebellion, but it was allegedly rescinded before being executed. When they looked at the investigation, they found the prosecution did not notify Ramirez of the ongoing investigation against him until his arrest. The existence of the investigation was allegedly denied by judicial authorities in meetings with the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.
I could go on and on about the human rights violations, about the improper and inadequate investigations, about the plight of indigenous people in Colombia. Over the last 20 minutes, I have talked about the egregious human rights violations that continue in Colombia to this very day.
Canada has an opportunity, if we are interested in pursuing some sort of trade agreement with Colombia, to talk up front about the human rights piece that needs to be in place to protect people in Colombia from disappearances, from kidnappings, from murder.
Canada often touts itself on the international stage as being a proud defender of human rights. This is an example where we could use some of that Canadian pride in human rights to insist that when we look at an agreement we make sure human rights are enshrined.
Therefore, I want to move an amendment to the amendment.
|| That the amendment be further amended by inserting after the word “matter” the following “, including having heard vocal opposition to the accord from human rights organizations”.
Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.
People might be inclined to think that the purpose of this agreement is basically to facilitate trade between Canada and Colombia. As with all trade accords, it should have been signed first and foremost for the purposes of trade. The fact of the matter is though—and I will explain why a little later—this agreement is intended more to protect big Canadian mining companies and shield them in various ways.
Discussions were started in 2002 with various Latin American and Andean countries: Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. It was not just yesterday, therefore, that the negotiations were undertaken with these countries to facilitate trade and sign a free trade agreement. Canada recently decided to focus on two of the countries, Peru and Colombia. More formal discussions were held, leading to negotiations in 2007 with these two countries. On November 21, 2008 the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement was finally signed.
As I was saying, people might think that Canada signed this agreement in order to reduce tariffs and facilitate trade between our two countries. If we look a bit more closely, though, at the wording of the agreement, we soon realize that it is intended more to protect big multinationals and ensure they can continue to make profits while disregarding the basic rules of democratic societies, such as human rights, workers’ rights, and the protection of the environment.
First of all, the agreement contains a chapter on protecting investment that is basically intended to facilitate the lives of Canadians who invest in Colombia, especially in the mining sector. This finds concrete expression in the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.
We should remember that the so-called mining codes were overhauled more than 10 years ago in order to give a lot of tax and regulatory breaks to the foreign companies that came and set up operations in developing countries. That was all funded several years ago by various international organizations, including CIDA and the World Bank. So Canada did not wait until 2008 to give tax breaks to its companies. It used its international tentacles—the World Bank but CIDA as well—to finance the changes to the codes and therefore to the laws that these countries were passing.
Whether in Africa or Colombia, Canadian tax dollars were used to help revise their domestic legislation, reduce environmental protections, and provide major tax breaks to the companies that came to explore for and exploit the mines.
The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia has one major advantage therefore: it facilitates the lives of Canadian investors who decide to put their money into the Colombian mining sector.
The most regrettable aspect of this agreement is the fact that the chapter on investment protection is drawn right from chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, which aims to protect major investors and enables them to circumvent legislation approved by parliaments to protect workers and the environment. This is what is wrong with this agreement. It does not aim to improve trade between two countries, but rather to protect investors and multinationals. It gives them the right to take to court governments that have decided to introduce environmental legislation or laws to protect workers. That is unacceptable.
The Bloc has always advocated promoting international trade agreements to facilitate trade between countries, but never to the detriment of workers' rights, environmental protection or human rights.
However, this is not what this government has done. It should have drawn on certain chapters in the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, the FTA, such as chapter 16, which did two or three things while protecting investments.
First off, this chapter provided for the creation of a dispute resolution mechanism. We have seen the results. No case has gone to an arbitration tribunal. Chapter 16 of the FTA, which the government might have drawn on in the agreement between Canada and Colombia, is not included. However, this chapter of the FTA led to a 41% increase in Canadian investment in the United States. This shows that there is a way to protect investments while providing guarantees in international trade agreements.
The government, in Bill C-23 and the agreement between Canada and Colombia, decided instead to draw right from chapter 11 of NAFTA. It did so in order to take advantage of Colombia's unimaginable resources. The mining and energy resources are considerable and include gold, nickel and coal. Thirty-one per cent of our imports from Colombia come from natural and energy resources. So the government tried to extract resources from a country with a unstable social situation in order to enrich the multinationals. Nothing is more irresponsible in social terms at a time when corporate social responsibility is increasingly a topic of discussion.
This agreement is unacceptable. Unacceptable too is the government's use of chapter 11, which among other things provides that, when legislation cuts into investors' profits, the government of this country is at risk of being sued. So, environmental and worker protection are scaled down. The constant violation of human rights is condoned. In the case of Colombia, the government is supporting the argument that paramilitaries or organized groups can be in collusion with a government that exploits rural populations where natural resources are found.
As a political party, we cannot accept this. And it is one reason we oppose this agreement. We oppose this agreement, which socially destabilizes a people already socially destabilized.
In 2006, 47% of the population was under the poverty line and 12% of the population and 68% of that poverty were found in rural areas. Why is it so important to talk about poverty in rural areas? It is because that is where the natural resources are and where Canadian companies, particularly mining companies, will go. Poverty is endemic in rural areas. Organized groups expropriate land and drive out local people, who have tried many times to get guarantees when the mining code was amended. We are now telling Canadian companies to go there and that we will condone bad social behaviour. That increases poverty, violence, and inequalities when here, in this House, we should talk about responsible and fair trade. We must conclude that the government does not understand what fair trade means.
Human rights are fundamental. We must remember that in July of 2007, the Prime Minister visited Latin America. Just before he left, unions, the CLC and Amnesty International too, clearly asked him not to forget that an agreement was under negotiation between Canada and Colombia and that he should not sign it if that agreement lead to an erosion of human rights. The Prime Minister went there nonetheless. He ignored the demands of workers and groups that work in developing countries. He decided nonetheless to visit Latin America and later, in 2008, he decided to sign the agreement that in the end will penalize the most destitute peoples, who are also victims of violence.
As we know, in 2008, crimes were committed by paramilitary groups, the ones I was talking about, which were in collusion with the government in place, those that pushed, forced and threatened rural populations to leave their traditional homelands to make way for the development, exploration and extraction of natural resources. In 1988, the crimes committed against such populations by paramilitary groups rose to 41% from 14% the previous year. Earlier, the hon. member for Davenport said that the situation had changed in Colombia, that that was no longer the case, that there was no longer any violence, that everything was fine and the situation has improved. In one year, the crimes committed by paramilitary groups increased to 41%, from just 14% the previous year. How is that an improvement? More violence, more human rights violations. Worse still, the rights of workers are increasingly being affected.
Since 1991, over 2,000 union leaders have been killed. Some 90% of all union leaders in the world who are assassinated are killed in Colombia. The Liberal member for Davenport tells us that the situation has improved, that everything is fine and that we should take this agreement, and study it in committee and sub-committee. I think the numbers speak for themselves. We do not need to go to Colombia, as my colleague has said, to see that human rights are being violated. There is no need to study this agreement any further. We have seen the proof: these human rights violations, workers' rights violations and violations of environmental laws are taking place in Colombia.
These mining advantages are significant, since, as I said, the mining code has been reformed in recent years. What purpose did those reforms serve? Basically, the reforms were meant to create more favourable conditions for mining companies.
The legislation from 1991 was looked at and revised in order to improve conditions for Canadian companies so they could go to those countries in order to explore for and exploit nickel, coal and gold deposits, all at the expense of rural populations. Canadian taxpayers' money was used. The Colombian government received assistance through CIDA and the World Bank. It was given money to help change its environmental legislation in order to be more accommodating and more favourable for mining companies.
How? First of all, the legislation was revised, making it possible to grant a mining company a single permit to allow for both exploration for and exploitation of a mineral deposit. Second, mining companies were giving a timeline of 50 years and that timeline is even renewable. How was that done? I urge the members to read a very interesting case study completed by the Halifax Initiative. It states:
|| Through its Energy, Mining and Environmental Project, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided technical and financial support to redraft Colombian mining legislation. The revised 2001 Mining Code..., which was adopted without consulting with potentially-affected indigenous communities, created investment conditions that are extremely favourable to foreign companies. The Code weakened a number of existing environmental and social safeguards and created significant financial incentives including dramatically reduced mining royalty and tax rates.
|| Indigenous groups in Colombia argue that the lack of consultation on this new legislation contravened International Labour Organization Convention 169, which was ratified by Colombia and formally adopted into national legislation in 1991. They argue that the Code places limitations on the concept of indigenous territory that violate the Colombian Constitution. Moreover, the legislation eliminates prior requirements that local communities receive economic benefits deriving from mining activity.
What does this mean? It means that Canada started redrafting legislation and, with public money through CIDA, funded revisions to legislation and mining codes before signing the Canada-Colombia agreement.
Now, after amending the legislation, they have created fiscal and regulatory benefits for the mining companies in place by making sure that, I repeat, “ the legislation eliminates prior requirements that local communities receive economic benefits deriving from mining activity”.
Local communities and indigenous peoples are having their land expropriated and are being told that they cannot receive royalties for mining activity. The government changed the codes and regulations using public money and, to top it all off, signed a Canada-Colombia agreement to protect investors and even enable them to go to court and challenge regulatory amendments that would protect the environment, human rights and workers.
The Canadian government quite simply conspired with the mining companies to create an iron-clad system at the expense of the local people.
Ms. Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased speak to Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.
I have a number of people who are concerned about this agreement, therefore I think a bit of historical information is important.
A year ago the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade tabled its report on the free trade agreement with Colombia. Out of respect for Parliament, the government ought to have responded to this. Concerns were expressed by the Standing Committee on International Trade, specifically the recommendation which asked for an independent comprehensive rights impact assessment. I believe a full independent human rights assessment, as recommended by the committee, should be provided by the government to Parliament before we vote on Bill C-23.
Colombia has faced years of internal conflict, where violence and human rights abuses have been perpetrated by paramilitary groups in the ongoing battles between the paramilitary and the gorilla organizations. These battles have been funded largely by the narco-economy, that is drug money.
In the last several years the Colombian government has made significant progress under President Uribe towards achieving security for the Colombian people. There have been significant reductions in violence and human rights abuses. The general murder rate has fallen dramatically and the International Crisis Group has noted, “since 2003 Colombia has witnessed a substantial decline in violence and kidnappings”.
This increase in security has helped pave the way for a stronger Colombian economy. From 2002 to 2007, the Colombian economy has grown an average of 5.3% per annum. However, we know there are still significant problems in Colombia, for example, violence and its root causes, poverty, the paramilitary groups and the illicit drug trade still remain.
It is a problem that in our trade and our aid policy with Colombia, Canada has a responsibility to engage and to work in partnership with the Colombian government to address these issues.
The recent economic progress that Colombia has achieved has been impressive in many ways, but it is incomplete and fragile. It is fragile for the basic reason that it still relies heavily on narco-economy. If Colombia is to achieve sustainable progress in human rights, it must expand its legitimate economy. A strong legitimate economy is required to fund social infrastructure, which will help to address the root causes of violence and to wean the Colombian people off the narco-economy.
Advancements in institutional building must carry on, whether at the political, judicial or administrative levels. On this front, concerns have been expressed regarding the suggestion that President Uribe may seek a constitutional amendment to secure an unprecedented third consecutive term as president.
In its May 14 issue, The Economist magazine ran an article entitled “Uribe edges towards autocracy”. The opponents of the third term extension argue that checks and balances in the constitution are designed for a four year presidential term and that an erosion of the separation of powers under Mr. Uribe would be aggravated by a third term.
The same article also recognizes President Uribe's accomplishments in the past, including the fact that, “Many Colombians credit Mr. Uribe with transforming their homeland from a near-failed state to a buoyant, if still violent, place”. The magazine concludes that, “If he doesn’t quit while he is still ahead, history may judge that Mr. Uribe began to undo his own achievement”.
It is important to ensure that there be no erosion in the progress that has been made so far, that there be no constitutional amendment. Respect for the constitution is paramount for any democratic state.
There has been progress made. There has been movement to demobilize the paramilitary, the economy has improved and people are themselves stating that President Uribe has transformed Colombia from a near failed state to a buoyant place, though not as non-violent as they would have expected.
As we move forward with Bill C-23, we should ensure we emphasize that this free trade agreement helps improve the living standards of the poor, particularly in the rural areas. To ensure lasting progress, Colombia must ensure that its economic opportunities and jobs are there for impoverished Colombians. If it does not happen, then the only jobs they might get are through the narco-economy or paramilitary. We have seen classic examples of this in Afghanistan.
To help the legal economy grow, we need to think of a broader range and a free trade agreement is an important aspect. Trade and investment and the right free trade agreement could help the people of Colombia diversify and strengthen its economy and society.
If we look at Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, for example, we have realized that development is one way of getting that economy out of its dependency on the poppy trade and the Taliban. Two-way Canada-Colombia merchandise trade in 2008 was valued at $1.35 billion. Approximately half of it was exports.
Canada and Colombia are not exactly each other's biggest trading partners. However, by putting in place a free trade agreement with Colombia, one has strong investment protection measures. A free trade agreement could act as an international signal that Colombia could attract and leverage legitimate foreign investment from all over the world. Therefore, it is a significant agreement to the people of Colombia and it is important that we send the right signals.
Increased international economic engagement with Colombia and the potential for increased political pressure that comes with it could have the capacity, with the right free trade agreement, to incentivize the Colombian government to pursue further reforms in support of increased security, human rights and economic growth. In other words, the right free trade agreement can help the Colombian government promote peace, stability and the rule of law.
As we discuss the ratification of this free trade agreement, we should recognize what role Parliament plays and what is not in the terms of trade agreements. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to determine whether Bill C-23 in fact represents a solid, sound free trade agreement. Does this agreement adequately address the legitimate concerns of Canadians regarding human rights abuses, labour laws and environmental standards? Are these measures relative to the side agreements on labour and the environment robust enough?
We know, for example, that the labour co-operation agreement requires that each country protect its right of freedom to association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, and the elimination of discrimination. We know that this agreement includes a complaint and dispute resolution process.
Would this process be legitimate and accountable? Those are the types of questions that we need to consider as a Parliament.
The government states that this process would, for example, allow a member of the public to file a complaint or request an investigation if Canada or Colombia failed to or was purported to have failed to live up to the agreement. Furthermore, the agreement would create an independent review panel that could impose fines on the offending country of up to $15 million.
The question we need to ask is this. Are these provisions sufficient? We need to as parliamentarians review and thoroughly analyze this.
As we study the legislation, we ask to call before committee recognized experts in these fields in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the labour and environmental provisions in this free trade agreement and its side agreements.
The Government of Canada, not the Parliament of Canada, negotiates trade agreements. The Government of Canada, not the Parliament of Canada, has negotiated this specific free trade agreement. It is not the role of parliamentarians to sit down with other countries to negotiate the free trade agreements. Trade negotiations are a function of the government and our public officials, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
However, our job as parliamentarians is to carefully consider the trade agreements before us and to determine whether or not they are in our national interest and whether or not the trade agreement, as written, reflects our values.
Therefore, the questions to ask are these. Is the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, as the government has presented, which we are considering through Bill C-23, in Canada's best interest? Does it reflect our shared values, particularly in the areas of human rights? Will it achieve greater peace, prosperity and security for Colombians? Will it help us, as Canadians, partner with the Colombian people to develop and build their economy?
The U.S., our largest trading partner, has yet to ratify its free trade agreement with Colombia. It may in fact seek a renegotiation. The Obama administration has indicated an openness to a free trade agreement with Colombia but that may require a renegotiation and more robust agreements on labour and the environment.
How would this impact our position vis-à-vis Colombia and the U.S.? Should this affect the timing of our consideration of Bill C-23? These are the questions that must guide our deliberations during the debate today.
The Conservative government has still not formally responded to the report of June 2008, a year ago, of the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade. It is important that the government respond to the recommendations of the standing committee's report before it expects Parliament to vote on this out of respect for all parliamentarians.
The issue of violence in Colombia merits special attention and the resources available to the international trade committee ought to consider and assess the expected impact of this free trade agreement on the human rights situation in Colombia.
Proponents say that it would help, that in fact weaning the Colombian people off the narcotic economy with real economic opportunities is essential to moving forward. Some of the opponents, including some of the human rights organizations, say it will not help. In fact, it would make the situation worse.
We have a responsibility to drill down on the facts and to not be guided by ideology, either the ideology that free trade at all costs is the word of the day or the position sometimes taken by others that every free trade agreement is bad. We have to be guided not by ideology but by the real concerns expressed to us by the human rights community, the labour movement and others, and the concerns and support from people such as the agriculture and business communities, who see this as being an important opportunity for Canada.
Given recent developments, it would be important for the Standing Committee on International Trade to perhaps go to Colombia and see the situation on the ground firsthand, meet with the Colombian government and have these discussions. We need to have clearer discussions regarding the constitutional amendments. As parliamentarians, we must be able to satisfy that this free trade agreement and its side agreements will enable and not hinder progress on human rights, labour rights and the environment before we can support its ratification and send this legislation to the other place.
As we proceed with our deliberations, we must be very careful not to confound the issues of commercial trade with development aid. As parliamentarians, we must be clear that pursuing free trade with Colombia does not reduce the Government of Canada's responsibility to provide development aid to that country. We have to continue through CIDA to invest in and help the people of Colombia. A combination of trade policy and aid policy is important.
Canada is a country of great freedoms. The citizens are protected by laws that many governments do not extend. While we strive to protect the individual rights of Canadians at home, our efforts abroad are limited to leading by example. In order for us to engage Colombia on human rights issues, we need to do it through dialogue. Globally, Canada's experience has been that it is through a broader dialogue that human rights can be inculcated in those countries and their civil societies.
We in the Liberal Party have built our foundation on social justice and equality. This ethos is ingrained in our party, the party that is the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As members of Parliament, we must look at these broader terms of engagement before we make our decision.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, that does not justify the member's course of action nor the course of this House of Commons. Just because evil is propagated against others and that should justify us entering into an agreement where clearly there are significant problems with human rights activity and there is an organized, orchestrated campaign to intimidate those of the citizenry population who want to better their society and have done so in an open and accountable way, which has led to much suffering. Having had a chance to question some of the Colombian delegation at committee, I have not been satisfied with their response.
I mentioned four specific cases of civil liberty union organizers. They were not, for example, from the mines where we would expect some activism or from the farming community where there have been issues with the drug cartels. I mentioned the cases of the school teacher's union, the nursing association and the universities where even in Bogota and other places like that where there is that type of structure, those citizens who had become union organizers to defend the interests of their neighbours, their friends and their families were killed.
The response I got from the people at the Colombian embassy was rather unique. The vast majority of those cases were never brought to trial in Colombia, which they admitted and claimed that they were all crimes of passion. What they meant by crimes of passion was that those individuals were in relationships that somehow did not work out and the spouses, partners or people in their lives had killed them because of that dispute.
I found that response a condemnation of justice. It was a condemnation of a parliamentary committee trying to get to the bare bones of things and investigate things. It is a very dismissive approach that those cases would not be respected. I could not believe that was the response they gave.
However, we need to step back from some of this, from our side here in Canada, and hear from some of the individuals from Colombia. I have an interesting quote from an individual who states:
|| “If Canada were to assess the real impact of a trade deal on the lives of Colombians, I believe it would change its mind on the advisability of continuing negotiations,” says Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona, leader of the Methodist Church of Colombia.
Because the government is using it to justify its approach and to gain credibility in the international community, he goes on to say:
|| “So, naturally, the government is desperate for a deal with Canada. It’s like a stamp of approval,” says Bishop Cardona. “But we say, stop the killing of innocent Colombians, disarm the paramilitaries, and protect human rights before any deals are made.”
Given the massive investment by the United States government and of Canada through CIDA in other types of trade, which are actually occurring, surely the situation has not gotten to the point where we should just give it a free ride. It is important to note that we are trading with Colombia and were trading with Colombia during a time of record assassinations of its citizens.
What we are saying is that this free trade deal right now is wrong and we need to have that independent analysis that the committee has requested. The reasonable approach here is to ask whether it has been able to bridge the gap successfully to allow these issues to be part of an overall structure and plan, not side deals. Side deals on the environment and on human rights abuses are just that. They show the real fact, which is that they do not matter because if they really mattered they would be in the deal to begin with and they would be conditions to which we could actually hold the government accountable, and we could ensure that those people with whom we are supposed to be growing a relationship will get the natural defence and the rule of law applied to them and their families. Those are the ones we are talking about.
The Methodist bishop from Colombia was quite right when he pointed out that the interests of this deal were really thrust upon an elite group of citizens and the corporate agenda of large corporations that would benefit from it.
The least we can do in this respect is to pursue accountability through our actions. We need the independent assessment report that we are calling for right now and which we have been calling for for over a year.
I do not want to be too hard on my Liberal friends but the Conservatives continue to rub their noses into the ground on this. They have totally dismissed this approach as a reasonable way to come to a resolution here in the House on a Colombia free trade deal. They cannot even provide that element to the Liberal Party and yet the Liberals will support them without having that report completed. This shows the contempt that the Conservatives have for the issue of human rights, which is a priority for Canadians and important for our trading relationship. It is not a hard thing for the government to deliver. The assessment has been validated by a number of organizations, including Amnesty International.
I want to point out that there is some motivation and we saw that today in a press clipping on the Hill entitled, “Colombia may accept beef”. The Minister of Agriculture is pushing hard for Colombia to open its markets. In 2003, Colombia shut down the beef market because of mad cow disease, thereby shutting down Canadian access. The government sees this agreement as a portal to getting beef products back into that country. Interestingly enough, that would not happen until the summer, so Colombia is watching whether or not this deal happens. Maybe the deal is a sell-off for this Parliament.
There is no doubt that we all want trade but there is nothing wrong with following through on the will of Parliament through the committee to have that independent assessment.
The minister talked about a science based approach. If that were the case, then it would have opened the market a long time ago because nothing has changed since 2003 with regard to the science around this issue.
I want to touch on how things really matter in the House of Commons and in committee. Amnesty International pointed out this serious issue in a letter to the Minister of International Trade. I want to read from that letter because it tells us how real this issue is and how we can take either positive action or negative action.
People who came from Colombia to appear before committee put their lives at stake by coming forward but they wanted to make changes for themselves, their families and their communities.
In the letter to the Minister of International Trade dated March 27, 2009, Amnesty International stated:
|| Ten years ago, Canadian MPs heard compelling testimony about the devastating impact of a hydroelectric project that received US$18.2 million of Canadian financing assistance from the Export Development Corporation, in support of work on the project by a Canadian corporation. Embera Katio Indigenous leader Kimy Pernia Domico told a Canadian parliamentary hearing that members of his community, whose access to food and to a healthy environment was negatively impacted by construction of the dam, had never been consulted about the project in violation of their rights under the Colombian constitution. Kimy was subsequently disappeared by army-backed paramilitaries. His people continue to live in fear. Other communities do too. Last month, a delegation of human rights defenders from Colombia met with you and testified about the fear generated by the arrival of scores of soldiers in an area of Indigenous opposition to a foreign mining project.
|| Minister, Canada owes it to the memory of Kimy Pernia Domico, to his family, his community and to all Colombians to ensure that this deal will not exacerbate the already deeply troubling human rights situation in Colombia.
It is important to note that people like Kimy who came forward and testified here in these halls about the issue paid the price for that testimony.
Once again, all we are asking for is an independent assessment on the field.
The interesting thing about this case is it is not just a single one-off; a historic pattern has evolved. The current president, President Uribe, has been part of this problem in many respects, as has been noted by many in the international community.
Back in 2007, Jairo Giraldo, of the national fruit-workers union, and Leonidas Silva Castro, of the teachers union, were murdered in separate incidents. Jairo was part of an organized trade union that had to deal with the land property conflict with the drug trade. We do not know much about the situation involving Leonidas, except that he was murdered at his home. He was a member of the teachers union. That is important to note, because it is not just about those who have conflicts with the drug cartel. There is compelling evidence that connects the Government of Colombia, in the past and in the present, with the cartel and some of the problems they have had with cocaine and other types of commodities.
I find it interesting that we would be soft on those individuals yet in our country, the jargon out there is that we are tough on crime. However, it seems that it is okay if it is in somebody else's backyard.
With regard to the teachers union, it is disturbing that union leaders of civil society organizations end up being killed because they represent the workers of those organizations. Nurses associations and others have been affected by that.
Groups and organizations, not just from the Parliament of Canada but also the United States Congress, have travelled to Colombia, and have challenged the Colombian government on these issues. Despite that, there are murders to this day. Last year was a bad year. The pressure has been mounting. According to the February 2008 Reuters news article, “USW Delegation Visits Colombia to Meet Union, Political Leaders”, 40 Colombian trade unionists were murdered last year, more than all the union activists killed in all of the countries of the world combined.
It is incredible, in looking at the small geography of Colombia and looking at the other nations of the world where there have been active attacks on trade unionists, that there would be that concentration of murders. We should be talking about the mere fact that Colombia would actually be allowed to have a privileged trade agreement. Let us define this. That is what we are talking about today. We are not talking about ending all trade to Colombia. We are not talking about reducing trade to Colombia. We are not talking about the fact that Canada is trying to increase its trade to Colombia. We are talking about a privileged state of trade that Canada would want to enter into with the Colombian government that has a history of corruption, a number of issues tied to cartels and a number of issues related to killings where the government has not gone after those individuals to any significant success rate. We have not put any type of markers in this trade deal to deal with that.
In fact the issues that have been raised consistently are that of the environment and labour. It is critical to note the environment is also connected to the land conflict uses that could destroy communities and the people who have lived there for generations. They are side agreements.
We are talking about entering into a privileged trade relationship, and we would do so with a country that continues to have that type of record. The Reuters article states:
|| In the meantime, death threats against trade unionists in Colombia persist, with more than 200 occurring last year, and one union with which the USW works closely in Colombia, Sinaltrainal, received numerous death threats against its leadership last year from the extremely violent “Black Eagles” of the AUC paramilitaries.
Not only are individuals being slaughtered for representing their family members, friends and community members, we also have another series of intimidations. Let us be clear about this. When 40 people, trade unionists, at that point, basically half the year, in Colombia have been killed, we can imagine the level of severity and concern the 200 death threats that were recorded would actually have. These are not small things.
I wrap up—