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”.