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Evidence of meeting #11 for International Trade in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was amendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Plunkett  Chief Trade Negotiator, Bilateral and Regional Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Alexandra Bugailiskis  Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Carol Nelder-Corvari  Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

4:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

We have seen enormous engagement by the Colombian government on a number of international agreements, as well as bilateral. Yes, we believe that largely they have been respected and followed through. There have been occasional setbacks where they have not been able to complete agreements on as timely a basis as we would have liked. That's when our dialogue and our engagement definitely increase. We raise this at every juncture and at the highest level, including with the minister. Overall, though, I think the performance is a very strong one. It's not easy in a country like Colombia that's still struggling with an internal civil conflict.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

If it's so difficult, why then was the government so determined to negotiate a free trade agreement? You have just admitted that the process is not that easy in a country like Colombia. That is precisely what we dislike about this agreement. It was negotiated in a climate in which there is no regard for human rights. You have just admitted that in so may words.

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

What we look at, sir, is the trend line that...the movement has been very positive. What I'm saying--I'm just being realistic--is that there are sometimes setbacks, but the conviction of the Colombian government to move forward, to open its doors to international scrutiny, is very clear and has been very strong. We have seen, as I said in my presentation, real improvements with regard to the general security situation, and even a decrease in the homicide rates.

So yes, there is substantial, concrete evidence of that conviction.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

Thank you.

Thank you, Monsieur Laforest.

Mr. Julian.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for coming forward, but I must admit that I'm more disturbed now than I was before you started your presentation.

If the amendment calls upon the Government of Canada to accept whatever reporting mechanism Colombia puts into place to monitor human rights organizations, what we see is the monitoring taking place currently. I must say that I'm deeply disappointed in what is a whitewashing of your presentation.

The number of disappearances has increased; the number of false positives—which are killings, as you know—of mainly Afro-Colombians and aboriginal Colombians who were massacred by the Colombian military, often with rewards and incentives, has increased; and the sexual torture of Colombian women has increased. Yet none of that is reflected in your presentation today.

I think that's unfortunate, because if the debate is whether or not the Colombian government reporting on itself or having some oversight from the federal government would improve the human rights situation, one would have expected that there would have been ongoing monitoring. And nothing of what human rights organizations are saying is reflected in this presentation today.

Now, of course there will be human rights organizations here. Many of them have already indicated that they want to come before committee, so they will have a chance to rebut. But if this is an example of how the Canadian government reports on Colombian human rights violations, I must say that it certainly underscores the argument that an amendment where the Colombian government reports on itself or the Canadian government simply rubber-stamps that report.... I think those concerns will increase after the presentation today.

I'm going to ask you two questions. The first question is around the amendment, and whether you've seen it. I think you've already responded to Mr. Laforest that--

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

Excuse me, Mr. Julian.

We haven't seen an amendment yet. The amendment has not been tabled; what you're talking about is hypothetical. If you have other questions to ask, do that, but I don't think we need to talk about an amendment we haven't even seen yet.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Just for clarity, Mr. Chair, the amendment requires each country, both the Canadian government and the Colombian government, to write independent reports on human rights in both countries. I would urge my colleague—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

I'm sure we'll get to this discussion, Mr. Brison, thank you. But we haven't seen it yet, so I'm not going to have a discussion on the amendment at this time.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

--not to impugn the reputations of our public servants and to accuse them of pre-emptively rubber-stamping a report written in another country, because that would not be consistent with the proposed amendment.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

I think, Mr. Chair, what Mr. Brison said is that there is an amendment, and I would expect, given that there has been a number of letters coming in and e-mails from human rights organizations wanting to comment on this, that he would table it--I would hope in the next day or two.

Obviously there is an amendment. Mr. Brison has just stated that.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

No, no, we are aware that one is coming. We just haven't seen it yet. It's a little premature to have that debate.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

I must say, Mr. Chair, given that we're having these discussions, given that Mr. Brison asked questions around his amendment, it's perfectly in order for me to make comments about whether or not—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

Well, I'm sorry, but it is not. I'm the chair, and I'm saying it's not in order. If you want to challenge the chair, challenge the chair. Otherwise, you can proceed with other questions.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, we've had Mr. Brison make comments about his amendment. You did not rule him out of order. I'm sorry, but you have to be consistent.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

Well, I'm ruling you out of order.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Well, I think very clearly there'd be a lack of consistency there.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Chair, if I can help bring peace—

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

No, thanks. No, we're not going to—

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

--I don't have a difficulty with Mr. Julian speaking about my amendment; I just wish he'd tell the truth about it.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Well, hopefully we'll see it soon.

Mr. Chair, I will go on to another subject.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Lee Richardson

Thank you.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

However, I do think it's in order to discuss the other element, and that's the question of the elections.

We've had, from independent monitoring, very clear concerns raised about fear and intimidation, coercion and fraud, all linked to the current Colombian elections. These are reports that are available from reputable human rights organizations and from election monitoring.

That's not reflected in your presentation today. Are you aware, then, of the concerns around the Colombian elections, and has there been a case in the past where Canada has moved to try to implement legislation that a government or a regime wants at a time when there are concerns about whether free and fair elections can take place?

I certainly cannot think of an example. Normally, Canada steps back during an election process to monitor and ensure that the election takes place in a free and fair manner. I cannot think of a single example of where in the past Canada has moved forward at a time when there are concerns about whether those elections are free and fair, whether there is coercion and fear, whether there is fraud and intimidation taking place during the electoral process, which, as you all know, ends on May 30.

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

It is a regular part of any embassy's job to monitor very closely, particularly during electoral periods. They're doing that at the moment. You will recall that Colombia is probably one of the longest-standing democratic regimes in the region, and from what we have seen in past elections, the electoral process, which is observed by international observers, is very transparent and clean.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

But you haven't read any of those reports. The observers are down there and they are releasing these reports.

Are you unaware of any of the concerns around the Colombian elections?

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

There are always concerns raised during electoral periods, just by the nature of its being an electoral period. Yes, we are, and we do have reports, but the overall assessment is not of the nature that you are indicating at the moment.