Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Stockwell Day  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 17, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment implements the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreements on the environment and labour cooperation entered into between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and signed at Lima, Peru on November 21, 2008.

The general provisions of the enactment specify that no recourse may be taken on the basis of the provisions of Part 1 of the enactment or any order made under that Part, or the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement or the related agreements themselves, without the consent of the Attorney General of Canada.

Part 1 of the enactment approves the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreements and provides for the payment by Canada of its share of the expenditures associated with the operation of the institutional aspects of the Free Trade Agreement and the power of the Governor in Council to make orders for carrying out the provisions of the enactment.

Part 2 of the enactment amends existing laws in order to bring them into conformity with Canada’s obligations under the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreement on labour cooperation.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Oct. 7, 2009 Failed That the amendment be amended by adding after the word “matter” the following: “, including having heard vocal opposition to the accord from human rights organizations”.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank our colleague for her question.

In my remarks, I simply pointed out that certain things were occurring in Colombia, especially failures to respect human rights. It is terrible, it is true.

I am not opposed to the position of the Bloc and the NDP, which are critical of the terrible situations in this country in which human rights are not respected. However, some things have improved in this country over the years. It cannot be said that the situation is worsening year after year.

I know Colombia well. I do not know whether my colleague has visited Colombia, but I know it well. I have been there a number of times. In addition, I have Colombian friends familiar with the situation in their country. It has changed completely in recent years, particularly in some cities. I mentioned Medellin, for example. Ten years ago, it was nearly impossible to walk down the street. Today, people can go out, and there is a level of security that did not previously exist.

So, we can see certain changes, although the problems with the paramilitary continue. It is true. The situation is a very difficult one for the government. I would not like to be a member of the Colombian government right now, because the situation there is terrible. There are factions in the country—

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill does not deal with labour rights protection and it fails to have any environmental protection. The investor chapter is modelled under chapter 11 of NAFTA, which allows foreign companies to sue Canadian governments, whether it is on the environmental, labour or social front.

Colombia has the worst human rights record in the western hemisphere and is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists.

I do not quite understand whether the member for Davenport will vote in favour of the bill at second reading. If so, how would he justify the human rights violations and the environmental problems facing Colombia? The bill, as it is drafted right now, does not give any labour rights protection.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, certain steps need to be taken. I am a member of trade committee and one of the first things we have to do is call for a human rights assessment. That needs to be done.

The second thing is to ensure that all those who want to speak to the issue, both from the human rights community and the business community, get an opportunity to speak before committee. It is important that we allow those individuals to come forward to give a wholesome view of what is taking place in Colombia. It is important to hear also from the people of Colombia. There is a possibility that trade committee might also visit Colombia.

The member might be surprised. I see issues of concern. I quite agree that there are a lot of human rights concerns. I have witnessed and heard about a lot of scary moments in Colombia. At the same time, I do not buy into the argument that by supporting this one could also be making the situation worse in Colombia. I want to hear the arguments before committee and then I will decide whether I will support it. That still needs to be fully debated.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am quite fascinated to hear the member for Davenport making such remarks. I would think I were listening to a Conservative member of this House when he says that the situation has improved in Colombia, that he does not know whether he should support the agreement or not and that he would like to hear witnesses in committee. The facts are there. The situation has not improved that much. For example, nearly 90% of the trade unionists murdered in the world are murdered in Colombia.

How can the member for Davenport claim in this House that the situation has improved in Colombia when 90% of the trade unionists murdered in the world are murdered in Colombia? How can he make such contradictory statements?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 4:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether my colleague has had occasion to visit Colombia to see the situation there. It has improved in certain sectors, but it is true that this is not the case in all sectors. It is true, as he has said, that the situation for trade unionists in Colombia continues to be terrible. I do not argue with his position on the subject. But it is not the case in all sectors. Some have improved, but not all. I know Colombia well and have been there a number of times. The situation is not the same today as it was 10 years ago.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

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.

I move:

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”.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan. She is always extremely effective in the House, and it was no different today. She comes from British Columbia, which has had a lot of problems, as she is well aware, of murderous thugs in drug trafficking gangs. I would like her to comment.

The Uribe regime has been linked to murderous thugs in drug trafficking gangs in Colombia, yet B.C. Conservatives are joining Conservatives from elsewhere in the country to hang a medal on these folks.

In declassified documents that were available a few years ago, the Defense Intelligence Agency in the United States described President Uribe in the following way. He was described as one of the most important Colombian narco-traffickers and that he is a Colombian politician dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín Cartel at high government levels. This is the drug trafficking cartel that has provided a very lucrative trade in hard drugs across North America. He is further described as a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar, who is one of the most notorious drug traffickers.

We have a direct tie with President Uribe, and there is much more evidence to come, yet B.C. Conservatives are saying it is okay. They can murder people and deal drugs and the Conservatives will cut a ribbon and sign a free trade agreement with them. How does the member think people in British Columbia are going to react when they find out?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to reference a story in the Washington Post on May 17. The headline is “Scandals Surround Colombian Leader Top Aides Suspected in Secret Police Case”. The article states:

For weeks after the news broke, Colombians knew only that the secret police had spied on Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, activists and journalists. Suspicions swirled that the orders for the wiretapping, as well as general surveillance, had come from the presidential palace.

Then on Friday, the inspector general's office announced an investigation against three of President Álvaro Uribe's closest advisers and three former officials of the Department of Administrative Security, or DAS, the intelligence service that answers to the president. Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez investigates malfeasance in government agencies, and his findings can be used in criminal prosecutions.

The latest revelations have come on top of an influence-peddling scandal involving the president's two sons...

This is from the Washington Post. I assume that it did its homework.

Our government is attempting to align us with a regime that has serious corruption problems. In terms of the other testimony from people living in the country about the murders, kidnappings and disappearances, I have to question why we would expect the Conservative government to lead us into this kind of trade affiliation. We need to use this as a lever prior to signing any agreement. We need to look at the human rights record and enforceable provisions. An independent human rights assessment is one of the things that industry and trade committee called for.

I would argue that we need to look at trade agreements that enshrine human rights with enforceable mechanisms.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Roger Pomerleau Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's speech, which I found very interesting.

Like her, no doubt, I have many Colombian political refugees in my riding of Drummond. These people were beaten and sentenced to death. Most come here suffering horrible after-effects. They were tortured, shot in the face and so on. I would not say I see them every day in my office, but several times a year, I see serious cases.

We often hear the government on the other side talk about law and order. It seems that they always use those words to describe what they would like to do in Canada.

I want to ask my colleague a question. Does she not think that when it comes to other countries, instead of talking about law and order here in the House, the government could be quicker to get involved and try to address problems?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, sadly, far too many members of the House have had dealings with Colombians who have had to flee their country. I know of a heartbreaking case where one of my constituents simply did not know if his family was still alive. It took many weeks to get some communication to find out that the family was alive, although one of the family members had been detained. We were fortunate in this case that the family was able to come to Canada.

I know there are many cases where family members are not reunited. We encourage those kinds of human rights. We are well placed on the international stage to talk about human rights but this kind of agreement does not support that.

We are talking about negotiating with a government that is under siege by people in its own country because of its alleged corrupt practices and alleged involvement in interfering in a process with opposition politicians and supreme court judges. I wonder what it is that is pushing the Conservatives into pursuing an agreement that clearly has other members, like the United States, backing away from it.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always great to hear the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan talk about issues that are so important to our country and our communities.

My city of Sudbury is well-known for its activism with trade unionists. According to the International Labour Organization, over the last 10 years 60% of all trade unionists murdered in the world were in Colombia. That is so unfortunate and I am sure the people in Sudbury would be up in arms to know that we are even considering this type of trade agreement.

I looked at the travel advisories that the government puts out in relation to Colombia. We have been hearing how great things are in Colombia and how things are turning around. However, in looking at the website, it says that people should avoid all unnecessary travel to an area that is killing its own citizens for issues that are basic human rights. How can the government say that it wants to trade with a place that we do not even want to send our own citizens to? It seems hypocritical in some sense and I would like to hear your comments on that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Sudbury raises a very good point around the fact that the Canada government is encouraging Canadians not to travel to Colombia. That says something about what is happening in the country.

However, I want to come back to the labour issue for a moment. The substantive labour rights protection remains in a side agreement and the enforcement of these rights is entirely at the discretion of the signatory government. The Conservative government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement that sidelines labour rights. It puts them in a side agreement that is not enforceable. I am not sure what that says about our commitment to workers' rights, both in this country and internationally.

The member for Sudbury raises a very valid issue. We know that the trade union movement in Canada has been very active in trying to raise awareness around what is happening in Colombia. In the report, “Making a Bad Situation Worse”, prepared partly by the Canadian Labour Congress but also with other partners, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The labour movement in Canada has been working quite closely with the trade union movement in Colombia to attempt to highlight the egregious human rights violations that are happening in Colombia. I would urge members of the House to vote no to this free trade agreement with Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

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.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I found the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie's remarks on the agreement very interesting. It looks as though the Conservatives and the Liberals can no longer defend their positions on this issue because they have not risen in the House to defend themselves in quite some time. I hope that they are giving the matter some serious thought and that they are beginning to understand what saying yes to this blood-stained regime would mean.

The member is familiar with the motorcycle gang and drug dealer problems in Quebec. The Colombian regime has very close connections with drug dealers, drug lords, and people who kill other innocent people, such as opposition party members, human rights organization members, and union members.

How would the people of Quebec react to seeing the Conservatives and the Liberals go ahead with an agreement with such a blood-stained regime?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2009 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague knows, Quebec is a progressive nation. Clearly, Quebeckers will not stand for the Canadian government signing an agreement that could undermine human rights and workers' rights.

I want to point out to both the House and the people of this country that even though the Conservative government signed the agreement, the mining code, which was amended to benefit those investing in mining, was ratified and supported by the Liberal Party. It is as though the Liberal Party started the job and the Conservatives finished it. That is why the member for Davenport hesitated, expressed uncertainty, and had no clear position. It is pretty obvious. In this case, the Liberals started the job, and the Conservatives finished it. They are all cut from the same cloth.