Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-23, an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.
Anyone who has been following the debate so far will not be surprised to learn that I will be speaking in opposition to this bill. All members of the NDP caucus are deeply committed to using all means possible to expose the truth about this deeply flawed agreement. We have grave concerns about the agreement's absolutely unacceptable content and the complete injustice of signing such an agreement while the human rights situation in Colombia continues to deteriorate.
This is a question of fundamental human rights and no compromise can be made. The prevailing assessment by the Canadian and Colombian governments, which suggests that all of Colombia's problems have been taken care of and that the country is ready and open for business, simply lacks credibility. The Uribe Colombian government has one of the worst human rights records in the world.
Let me paint a statistical picture. There are 3.8 million internally displaced people, 57% of whom are women. The UN calls this the worst humanitarian disaster in the western hemisphere and it is growing. Some 955 cases of extrajudicial executions by the army over the last five years have been documented. The numbers are rising. Colombian soldiers are accused of executing peasants in rural areas and passing them off as leftist rebels killed in combat, a practice known as “false positives”.
Sixty-two Mafia-like, ex-paramilitary, drug-trafficking criminal networks control economic activities and political institutions in 23 of the 31 provinces and are vying with guerrilla groups for control of the drug trade. Despite the demobilization of over 31,000 paramilitary death squad members, abuse and insecurity prevail in the countryside.
Over 60 lawmakers, including senators, governors and mayors representing the president's political coalition, are under investigation by the country's attorney general and supreme court for alleged relationships with paramilitary chiefs, labeled as terrorists by Canada, and collusion in elections fraud. Seventeen are in jail together with Uribe's former head of secret services, campaign manager and high-ranking military officials.
These facts do not just suggest but prove that the Canadian government is wrong when it says that the problems in Colombia have been redressed. It is not just New Democrats who are pointing that out. We are joined by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Colombian trade unions, the Canadian Labour Congress, human rights advocates, victims of violence, Colombian judges, prosecutors, government oversight staff, journalists, legislators and Afro-Colombian, indigenous and other community leaders.
All of these groups have called for caution in initiating free trade with the Colombian government, at least until there are demonstrable improvements in its record on human rights and an end to the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of these human rights violations.
Trade can contribute to a country's social and economic development, but only if trade policy supports not undermines human rights and development policy goals. Experts have concluded, given the context of violence against trade unionists and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of peasants from their resource-rich land, that the trade measures in the Colombia FTA will exacerbate the human rights crisis while the labour rights and environmental provisions in the deal are ineffectual.
It is these two aspects of the deal that I would like to focus on in the few remaining minutes I have left to speak on this trade agreement in the House today. As the NDP's labour critic, let me begin by addressing the labour side agreement. Contrary to the Conservatives' contention that by some magical trickle-down effect free trade agreements will inevitably bring an end to human rights abuses, the labour side agreement to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement does nothing to guarantee the protection of labour rights.
The shocking reality is that, in the event of the murder of a trade unionist in Colombia, labour protection simply means that the Colombian government would have to pay money into a development fund. Kill a trade unionist, pay a fine. Over 2,200 labour activists have been murdered since 1991 and the hunt for trade unionists in Colombia will go on if the price is right. Such is the Conservative government's concept of labour protection.
The penalty for killing a trade unionist was capped at $15 million in any one year, paid by the Colombian government into a development fund. To put this into perspective, one year's maximum payment of $15 million equates to $5,628 per trade unionist already killed.
How would Canadians feel if the Prime Minister agreed to do the same kind of treatment to those here who intentionally set out to kill labour organizers within our own borders? This is an outrageous lack of appreciation of human life and it is no labour protection at all.
It is impossible to separate human rights from international trade, and negotiating a free trade agreement with Colombia is no exception.
Before ratifying and implementing an agreement with Colombia, we must development and implement a human rights impact assessment to ensure there are binding and enforceable protections for labour and human rights within the framework of fair trade. In fact both the Canadian and Colombian governments should welcome such an independent and impartial assessment. They claim that conditions have improved and human rights violations have decreased already, but in reality they know the situation in Colombia would never pass such scrutiny.
That brings me to the agreement on the environment. As I outlined, we know that paramilitary terror and massacres have been used to try to dismantle indigenous Afro-Colombian and other social movements and vulnerable groups in order to take over their resource rich territories for the benefit of the mostly multinational extractive industries and agriculture, such as African palm oil. Few controls exist to ensure that extractive companies behave responsibly.
Let us be honest: the Colombian market is hardly a top-tier market for Canada. Only 0.15% of Canadian exports actually go to Colombia. As Glen Hodgson, vice-president and chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada has pointed out:
Our annual trade with Colombia is about the same level as that with South Dakota and is actually smaller than that with Delaware or Rhode Island. Compared to other markets much closer, Colombia is not really a major player. Eighty per cent of Colombia’s imports to Canada are actually duty free already. The gains from free trade are probably not as great as they would be in other cases.
So why is this free trade deal such a priority for Canada? It has nothing to do with trade and everything to do with investments. Since this agreement would contain investment protection provisions, it would help Canadian investors in Colombia, particularly in the mining sector. If past agreements are any indication, the investment protection provisions in the Canada-Colombia agreement would contain provisions that would allow investors to directly sue a foreign government if it adopts regulations that diminish the output of their investments.
That means that progress on environmental and labour laws would be actively constrained by the very language of the free trade deal. It puts the interests of Canadian investors ahead of any improvements in the Colombian standard of living. So much for the Conservative government's contention that this trade deal will actually encourage and facilitate improvements to human rights and environmental and labour standards.
If I am right that this deal has much less to do with trade than with protecting the interests of investors, then it all comes down to politics. However, I would like to remind the government that concerned citizens in Canada far outnumber Canadian mining operators in Colombia. Those citizens have made their opposition a clarion call to action.
The Prime Minister should be well aware of the thousands of postcards he has received from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. I am proud to have a particularly active chapter in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. It has gathered signatures from petitioners of all ages calling on the government to live up to its commitment on corporate social responsibility. They want to see the recommendations of the national round table implemented now.
Standing with the people of the global south, they insist that the Prime Minister and the government develop legal mechanisms to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for their actions abroad. The line in their petition that the Prime Minister really needs to hear is that they are not going away.
That is the real political message. Faith groups, labour groups, environmental groups, indigenous groups and human rights groups are all not going away, and neither are New Democrats. We are united in our opposition to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and we will continue to do everything in our power to seek justice for the citizens of Colombia by stopping this irresponsible deal.