Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to join other members of my caucus and our party's trade critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, in voicing my strong opposition to Bill C-23.
It would be extremely irresponsible for the government to push for the passage of this free trade agreement with Colombia, a country with the worst human rights record by far in the western hemisphere and that is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists.
The Conservatives' claim that trade will bring human rights improvements to Colombia is entirely contradicted not just by the facts I will raise in my address today, but also by the text of the agreement.
The full respect of fundamental human rights must be a precondition for any trade agreement. Before going into the facts of the argument, let us first trace the government actions that have led us to where we are today.
On November 21, 2008 Canada signed a free trade agreement and related side agreements with Colombia, the result of a year and a half of trade negotiations. The bill would legislate the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, also known as the CCFTA.
The agreement consists of three parts: the main FTA text, a labour side agreement and an environmental protection side agreement.
It is nearly identical to Bill C-24, the implementation legislation for the Canada-Peru free trade agreement.
In June of this year, the New Democrats, with the support of the Bloc members, and joined by the trade union movement and civil society, successfully prevented Bill C-23 from completing second reading.
At that time, New Democrats presented a subamendment to the Bloc motion on Bill C-23, asking that the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-23 because the government had concluded the Canada-Colombia FTA while the committee was still considering the matter.
Over the course of the debate on Bill C-23, our caucus critic has continued to work tirelessly with a large network of civil society groups, trade unions, lawyers, environmental groups, parliamentarians, members of the Colombian congress and concerned citizens to raise awareness and, ultimately, to stop this agreement.
In 2008 the critic travelled to Colombia with the standing committee to meet directly with stakeholders and opponents of this deal.
Various motions have been presented at committee to study the issue in depth and to stop this flawed deal. Petitions have been, and are being, circulated. To date our caucus has received almost 3,000 signatures from Canadians all across Canada who do not support the government's desire to put this agreement into action.
Now that we have looked at how we got here, let us go over the main flaws in the agreement and some facts about the current situation in Colombia.
The most appalling aspects of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement are the following.
First and foremost, this agreement fails due to its lack of labour rights protection. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists. They are regularly victims of violence, intimidation and assassination by paramilitary groups. In fact, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia since 1986.
In 2008, the number of murders went up by 18% over the previous year. What is even more alarming, as we discuss this agreement, is that since September of this year, 27 trade unionists have been murdered.
Some important facts about the Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe are as follows. Uribe's government has been accused by international human rights organizations of corruption, electoral fraud, complicity in extrajudicial killings by the army, links to paramilitary and right wing death squads; and of using the security forces to spy on the supreme court of Colombia, opposition politicians, government politicians and journalists.
Many government members, including ministers and members of the president's family, have been forced to resign or have been arrested in relation to many of these issues.
With this type of reality in Colombia, it is clear that the agreement, in its current form, does not include strong enough labour standards. The division of labour provisions in the main text of the agreement, in addition to not having any substantial enforcement mechanism, will do nothing to encourage Colombia to improve its horrendous human rights situation for workers.
In fact, in its current form, the agreement could justify the use of violence in many cases. For example, in the agreement, the penalty for non-compliance is currently determined by a review panel, one that has the power to require the offending country to pay up to $15 million annually into a cooperation fund. Unfortunately, this type of enforcement measure will do little to encourage the government to change its current approach to trade unionists. If and when a trade unionist is killed, under this provision, all the government is required to do is to pay into a development fund, capped at $15 million per year, essentially equating the murder of a trade unionist to paying a fine. That is shameful.
The second way in which this agreement fails is in its lack of environmental protection. Environmental issues are addressed in a side agreement, this time with no enforcement mechanism to force Canada or Colombia to respect environmental rights.
Here is a fact. Nearly 200,000 hectares of natural forest in Colombia are lost every year due to agriculture, logging, mining, energy development and construction. Another fact is that almost 4 million people in Colombia are internally displaced persons, 60% of whom have come from regions where there is a rich supply of minerals, agriculture and economic resources. In these areas, private companies and their government and paramilitary supporters have come in and forced individuals and local communities from their homes.
The side agreement process has serious flaws. In the past we have witnessed how these side agreements are unenforceable. For example, in the case of NAFTA, not a single successful suit has been brought forward under the labour side agreement.
The third major flaw in this agreement is found in the investor chapter. Copied from NAFTA's chapter 11 on investor rights, the CCFTA provides powerful rights to private companies. The provisions in this chapter give private companies the ability to sue governments, as is enforceable through investor state arbitration panels. The arbitration system set up by the investor chapter gives foreign companies the ability to challenge legitimate Canadian environmental, labour and social protections. This is not a standard that we accept.
The fourth most shameful aspect of this agreement relates to agricultural tariffs. Colombia's poverty is directly linked to agricultural development. In fact, 22% of Colombia's employment is in the agricultural sector. An end to tariffs on Canadian cereals, pork and beef will result in the flooding of the local market with cheaper products. This would ultimately lead to thousands of lost jobs and to more poverty.
In conclusion, Canada needs to set the example. It would be highly irresponsible to turn a blind eye to the Colombian situation. We cannot allow Canada to abandon its values and its support for internationally recognized human rights to gain economic advantage for our companies at the expense of millions of displaced and impoverished Colombians.
Let us remember Jorge Darío Hoyos Franco, the prominent union leader who was gunned down near his home in southeast Bogota on March 3, 2001, a year before President Uribe was elected to his first of two terms in power. In the words of his daughter, Yessika Morales, "You cannot give a reward before he”, meaning President Uribe, “fulfills his duty of improving human rights. This is like a father continuing to reward a child when he misbehaves, so that child will never change his conduct”.
I call on all parliamentarians to join me and my caucus in our strong opposition to Bill C-23.