Mr. Speaker, it would be a pleasure to speak to this subject, but given the horrific record of facts that I am about to share with the House, I cannot say that is the case.
I have heard some members of the Conservative Party catcall across, asking why we do not like Hondurans. This has nothing with that. I would ask the government why it does not like democracy. Why does the government not like human rights? Why does the government not like freedom of the press? Why does the government not like keeping our society free of drugs?
Honduras is a country that had a military coup in 2009, when the military removed a democratically elected government at gunpoint and replaced it with a government that had no democratic mandate.
Honduras has widespread human rights abuses and massive corruption in both the government and the police. There is no functioning court system in Honduras. It is a narco-trafficking centre. It is considered by the U.S. State Department to be one of the most violent places on earth. It is the murder capital of the world. It is the most dangerous place on earth for journalists. Honduras has repressed the media to such an extent that PEN International has ranked it below Ukraine under Yanukovych and below Egypt today.
It is the cocaine trafficking centre of Central America, where the U.S. State Department estimates that 79% of all cocaine shipments emanating from South America land in Honduras.
It is one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere. It has no strategic value for Canada, since the net total of all exports that Canada made to Honduras last year was $38 million. It has extremely low environmental standards, if they exist at all. It has extremely low labour standards, in that some 40% of the population of Honduras make under the minimum wage of Honduras. It has serious mining issues.
It is very interesting that both the Conservatives and Liberals have joined together to support the bill at second reading. We heard witnesses at committee who buttressed everything I just said, and there was no contradiction by a single witness who came before committee. In other words, Honduras is one of the most repressive, undemocratic, corrupt, and dangerous places on earth, and the government wants to extend preferential trade relations to that government and the Liberals want to assist it.
I understand why the Conservatives would do that. I have a bit more difficulty, given the propaganda and rhetoric coming from them, why the Liberals would.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood has been championing a bill that is supposed to raise the standards of Canadian mining companies around the world. The Liberal Party is concerned about mining standards and it wants mining standards in third world and second world countries to be raised, including environmental standards, the rights of indigenous people, and corporate social responsibility standards, yet the Liberal Party supports a trade bill with Honduras, which probably has the most lax mining standards on the planet. I do not understand that.
I have heard the Liberals talk about human rights. They appear to be concerned about them. I will say it for the Canadian public and defend it to anybody who wants to look at the record and the facts: Honduras is one of the worst human rights violators on the planet.
I will go through the figures. Honduras is ranked 85th out of 167 on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, and that is a slide from 74th in 2008. Honduras is classified as a “hybrid regime” rather than as its previous designation as a “flawed democracy”. It is getting worse. So much for rewarding a country for getting better.
The government has continued to negotiate with signing a trade agreement, giving preferential economic terms to a country that is actually sliding away from democracy.
Transparency International ranks Honduras as the most corrupt country in Central America, and it has the worst income inequality in the region. I have commented about the U.S. State Department estimating the cocaine shipments originating in South America and landing in Honduras, drugs moved from South America through countries like Honduras and other Central American states into Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
Independent observers have noted the increasing levels of violence as well as organized criminal gang activity associated with trade in illegal narcotics.
It is a country that is awash in drugs and drug money, which raises the question of why any Canadian government would want to liberalize investment rules to make the flow of capital easier between the two countries. In other words, we would have more drug money coming into Canada because of this trade deal with Honduras.
According to The Economist, “...the countries known as 'the northern triangle' of the Central American isthmus [that includes Honduras] form what is now the most violent region on earth”. Let us stop for a moment and think about that. We have Syria. We have the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have Rwanda. We have Uganda. There are places on earth right now where the most horrific crimes against humanity are being committed, and Honduras is the most violent place on earth, and the Conservative government wants Canadians to extend preferential trade terms to that government.
In 2012 Honduras became the murder capital of the world, reaching a record high of 7,172 homicides, or 81 per 100,000 people. Since the 2009 coup d'état, violence and repression in the country have gone up and have reached an all-time high. To put that in context, Honduras has about one-fifth the population of Canada. That would be the equivalent of Canada experiencing 35,000 homicides. Can members imagine in this country if we had 35,000 homicides? That would be the equivalent per capita homicide rate in this country. That is the country the Conservatives want us to be trading more with.
In 2013, just last year, lest anyone think this is an old problem, there were on average 10 massacres per month. A massacre is defined as an instance where three or more people are murdered at one time. In the previous four years, fewer than 20% of all homicides in Honduras were even investigated, let alone prosecuted. We hear a lot of talk by the Conservatives about the rule of law. The rule of law means we have an independent police force and an independent judiciary. I have heard the Conservatives, for six years, talk about getting tough on crime, and they have signed a trade agreement with a country that does not even investigate murders. It is the most murderous country on earth. The police do not investigate and the judges do not even hear cases, and the Conservatives think we should be trading more with that country. Is that tough on crime? That is absurd.
I want to talk about journalists, because journalists in Canada should be writing about this. Freedom of the press and having an independent media is part of being a democracy. Today journalists in Honduras suffer threats, attacks, and killings. Six months ago, TV news anchor Anibal Barrow was abducted while driving in Honduras, and his dismembered remains were found weeks later. While several suspects have been charged with kidnapping, none have even been brought to trial.
Thirty-five journalists have been murdered in Honduras over the last five years. To put that in perspective, in per capita terms, that would be more than 150 journalists in Canada killed over the last five years. Can members imagine if in this country 150 journalists who were doing their jobs, holding the government to account, doing investigative work, covering politics, and covering the activities of the corporate sector were murdered, and we were finding their bodies in ditches? That is what is happening in Honduras.
This is not rhetoric. These are the facts in Honduras, backed up by every source there is. At committee we called witness after witness to testify to this, and there was not a single rebuttal. All we heard was silence, and the Conservatives and Liberals turn a blind eye to this.
Canadians want trade. We want to be trading with countries, but Canadians do not want us trading with butchering, murderous regimes. That is why Canadians would not accept a trade agreement with Yanukovych in Ukraine, but I noticed that the Liberal trade critic stood up and waxed eloquent in this House about how offended she was by the human rights situation in Ukraine and how we should stand up for human rights in Ukraine. That is the same Liberal trade critic who stood up and said that we should support a trade agreement with Honduras. I will say right now that Honduras has a far worse record on human rights than Ukraine did under Yanukovych. This is inexplicable.
In June 2013, 24 U.S. senators signed a letter expressing concern about the human rights situation in Honduras. Ninety-four members of Congress have called on the U.S. State Department to halt all military aid to Honduras in light of its violent repression of political activity. The Conservatives are signing a trade agreement with a country that has violent repression of political activity.
I could go on about the violence against indigenous people and the violence against the LGBTQ community, but instead I will read some of the quotes we heard at committee, which the Liberals and the Conservatives just want to pass over.
This is Ms. Karen Spring, from Honduras Solidarity Network. She said:
Since 2009, the violence in Honduras has increased pretty dramatically, and coupled with a high impunity rate, this has been very troubling for the human rights situation in the country. Very few crimes are investigated, and even fewer are brought before a judge. The Honduran Supreme Court has estimated that the impunity rate is at about 98%, but depending on who you ask, I've heard the impunity rate can be between 80% and up to 98%. So, given the high impunity rate, it's really difficult for human rights concerns to be mediated, and there are really serious repercussions for human rights abuses related to Canadian investments in the region....
She goes on to talk about the communications director for the Federation of Agro-Industry Workers' Unions of Honduras:
[He is] a labour journalist who has a national radio program that's called Trade Unionist on Air, which he's had for 19 years, 5 days a week. He's recently been working on a union organizing drive and he makes frequent mention of a [local]...banana supplier.... Last June he started receiving death threats related to his work. Every time he went on the air and spoke about the...supplier he received death threats on his phone, and cars were circulating around his house and the radio station after his programs.
He has since gone into hiding, because his family was intimidated.
Ms. Spring went on to say that Hondurans have little faith in the institutions that are set up, that very few investigations are conducted, and that the fear people face is real. She also said:
...since 2009, 31 trade unionists have been murdered in Honduras and over 33 journalists as well.
This is what was said in committee about the 2013 elections, which the Conservative government said were fine:
The 2013 elections occurred in a really difficult human rights context, given the high impunity rate, given the high homicide rate. There was a report put out that looked at the political killings in Honduras a year and a half prior to the November 2013 elections, and it showed that there were 36 killings in total of candidates and pre-candidates who were set to participate in the November elections. There were 24 armed attacks against these candidates. The list shows that the majority of these killings were against the political opposition party, the Libre party. This list was published by Rights Action, and...a lot of the cases were actually published by the International Federation of Human Rights [and internationally respected body]...worried about the targeted assassinations of the political opposition in the lead-up to the elections.
Last year, in the Honduran elections, 36 candidates were murdered in the 18 months prior to them. Does that sound like a democracy? Does that sound like a country Canadians would want their government extending preferential trade terms to?
We heard from PEN, the internationally respected independent organization for journalists. Here is what its representative said to the committee:
Our report finds that journalists are targeted for their work, and that they are especially vulnerable members of the population... [F]reedom of expression in Honduras has suffered serious restrictions since the ouster of President Zelaya in June 2009. These past five years have seen a dramatic erosion in protections for expressive life in Honduras. Journalists are threatened, they're harassed, attacked, and murdered with near impunity, and sometimes in circumstances that strongly suggest the involvement of state agents.
I have heard from some of the people on the other side who would say that it is drug involvement. It is not. The evidence is that the state is involved in some of these killings.
The representative from PEN went on to say:
This has had a devastating impact on the general state of human rights and the rule of law in the country, since violence against journalists often silences coverage of topics such as corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking, and political reportage. Fearing for their personal safety, many journalists [in Honduras] either self-censor or flee the country altogether.
I have heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs in this House stand up on the international stage and rant and rave about the situation in Ukraine and how Canada and the Prime Minister stand up for human rights and democracy on the world stage. These things are a matter of principle, and they will take that position. It does not matter what the costs are. They turn around and sign a trade agreement with Honduras, which has just about the worst human rights record in the western hemisphere.
I hear laughing on the other side of the House. How do we square that? Canada either has a principled position on human rights and democracy or it does not. In the case of Honduras, it is a contradiction of massive proportions. It is hypocritical. It is opportunistic politics by the Liberals of the highest order.
We have an election coming up in Ontario. Premier Wynne is trying to tell New Democrats that she is progressive. If the people of Ontario knew that the Liberals in the House of Commons were supporting a trade deal with one of the most murderous, anti-democratic, human rights-violating jurisdictions on the planet, I wonder if they would still view them that way, because they are not progressive.
I will go back to what PEN said:
The taint of corruption and the culture of impunity have undermined trust among state agencies and public confidence in key institutions. Public distrust of the police is so great that only about 20% of crime is reported, and of that, less than 4% gets investigated.
I have heard Conservatives in the House talk about the lack of reporting of crime in this country. They say that crime is under-reported, and they say it is a problem in this country. Eighty per cent of the crime in Honduras is not even reported, because people cannot even trust police officers who come to their doors, because they may be on the payroll or they may be involved in the killing. What kind of culture is that?
Serious problems are evident throughout the criminal justice system. Police will say an investigation is under way when there is none. The office of the special prosecutor for human rights does not have the jurisdiction to try those responsible for the murders of journalists, and lacks resources to conduct even the most basic of investigations into human rights abuses....
She also said:
As our report sets out, only two convictions have been secured in the 38 journalist killings between 2003 and 2013—an impunity rate of 95%.
This is what PEN concluded:
To be clear: under international law, when the state is unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes, this is state complicity in human rights violations. Honduras is facing a serious human rights crisis. This is not just a matter of working with Honduras to move beyond a troubled past. Violence against journalists, complete collapse of expressive life, and impunity for violent crimes and human rights abuses remain the norm there.
Are these international journalists radicals that we should not pay attention to?
We heard from yet other witnesses:
Honduras is far worse than any of Canada's current trading partners in the region. To give you an idea of the situation in relation to others, in the global press freedom rankings of 191 countries...Canada ranked 29; Chile ranked 64; Peru ranked 89; and even Colombia, also plagued by narco-trafficking, ranked 112. Where did Honduras rank? They ranked 140, tied with Egypt, which has imprisoned two Canadian media workers in the past eight months. Since the coup in 2009, 32 journalists have been murdered in Honduras.
I want to talk a bit about mining because the Liberals have tried to convince Canadians that they are concerned about mining standards abroad. Here is the testimony we heard at committee that was not rebutted. After 2009, when the Zalaya government was trying to put a moratorium in place on new mining concessions and to bring in some mining laws, the new regime, which was installed at gunpoint by the military, got rid of that, and now it leaves the door open to open pit mining.
Water sources, except those that have been declared and registered, which are in a minority, are not protected. Mining is not prohibited in populated areas, meaning that forced expropriation and displacement of entire communities can continue to take place.
Community consultation is a theoretical right only, only after the exploration concession has been granted. Honduras has almost no environmental standards. It has almost no ability to police or regulate its mining.
I expect the member from Scarborough, who I mentioned before, to stand up in the House and say that he is opposed to this deal. If he really cares about mining standards, as he claims he does, then he will stand in the House and say, “I can't support this deal with Honduras”, where we are going to see environmental degradation, violations of indigenous rights, pollution, and dangerous working conditions.
Trade deals are about extending preferential terms. The New Democrats believe that we should be extending preferential trade terms to democratic countries, modern democracies that respect human rights, environmental standards, and labour standards. We understand that many countries are not perfect, but we think Canadians want those countries to at least be on a positive trajectory in that regard.
Canadians want to see trade deals signed with countries of strategic value to our country. The testimony from economists before our committee said that Honduras has almost zero strategic importance to Canada. In fact, it already has virtually zero tariffs in Honduras, so it is going to make zero difference to the amount we export from Canada.
I hope every member of the House who believes in democracy, human rights, and the rule of law stands with New Democrats and votes against this flawed deal. It is a poor piece of legislation.