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House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When Bill C-2 was debated in the House, before oral question period, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas had the floor. There are two minutes left for questions and comments regarding his speech.

The hon. member for Mississauga South has the floor.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in debating this bill, much of the debate has been based on whether there is an implication of trade with regard to improving the human rights situation in Colombia. I wonder if the member has any evidence or information regarding the experience of other countries where human rights questions were brought to bear and whether improvement in trade relations had some impact on the human rights situation.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for that very fundamental question.

In the past, when it came to signing agreements with other countries, we took into account their human rights track record, with respect to both labour and the rights of men, women and children. Those are things we considered in the past.

This time, we are going about it differently. We are trivializing the human rights situation. In the comments I made earlier, before oral question period, I said that Colombia could be classified as a rogue state on the human rights front. The proximity between the government and paramilitaries who engage in violence and commit murders is so obvious that it is shocking and despicable to want to conclude an agreement with a state that behaves in such a manner.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members of the House who have taken a principled stand against the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, in particular the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for his consistent efforts to challenge the ethics of this free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.

I have been aware of the situation in Colombia for a number of years and have had the privilege to speak directly to Colombians from all walks of life in regard to the situation they face in their homeland under the Uribe government. In fact, I have many constituents who have fled to Canada because they no longer felt safe in their home country.

In the last session of Parliament, I spoke about the CCFTA and undertook to talk about the lack of environmental protection and labour rights in the agreement, violations of labour rights, violence committed against unionized workers and the anti-trade union atmosphere of Colombia, as well as the murders of trade unionists. These are the norms.

At that time, my colleagues and I took note of the fact that Colombia was the most dangerous place in the world for trade unionists. More than 2,700 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered since 1986 and, tragically, they have been murdered with impunity. There is only a 3% conviction rate for those who murder and, even worse, the agreement that Canada proposes to sign with Colombia has a system of fines for companies that murder their workers.

How can we be party to any agreement that has a provision for killing a trade unionist and paying a fine? It is unspeakable and I believe that once Canadians understand what the proposed Canada-Colombia free trade agreement contains they will reject it.

Today I would like to speak about crimes currently being committed by the Uribe government against indigenous Colombians.

In a recent report released on February 23, Amnesty International called for immediate international action to ensure the survival of indigenous peoples in Colombia. The organization says that guerrilla groups, state security forces and paramilitaries are responsible for grave human rights abuses against indigenous peoples. These abuses include killings, enforced disappearances and kidnappings, sexual abuse of women, recruitment of child soldiers, persecution of indigenous leaders and forced displacement of communities from land that is rich in economic potential. People are forced from their land because these areas are valued for natural resources, including oil and minerals.

Amnesty International has stated that the situation of indigenous peoples in Colombia is nothing short of an emergency. Until countries like Canada recognize the gravity of the situation and exert much needed pressure on the Colombian government, there is a real risk that entire indigenous cultures may be eradicated.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, the survival of 32 different indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk as a result of the armed conflict, the impacts of large-scale economic projects and a lack of state support. According to ONIC, at least 114 indigenous women, men and children were killed, many others threatened and thousands driven from their land in 2009 alone.

In its latest report, Amnesty International says that the threats facing indigenous peoples are intensifying and is calling upon guerrilla groups and state security forces to respect the rights of indigenous people not to be dragged into hostilities, and equally important, the right of indigenous peoples to own and control the lands upon which they depend for their cultures and livelihoods. Tragically, indigenous leaders and communities who try to defend their land rights, commonly experience threats, killings and mass displacement.

Colombia's ongoing armed conflict has affected millions across the country and left tens of thousands dead, tortured and forcibly disappeared. The vast majority of victims are civilians. In the last seven years, more than 1,595 indigenous people were killed or forcibly disappeared as a result of the armed conflict, and 4,700 collective threats were reported. In the vast majority of cases, these crimes have not been properly investigated, nor have the perpetrators ever been brought to justice.

Just as with trade unionists, the death toll is rising and still the Conservative government is determined to pursue a trade agreement with a highly questionable regime.

As Amnesty International testified to the House of Commons committee on international trade in November 2009, one of the most worrying trends is a dramatic increase in the number of Colombians forced to flee from their homes. As many as 380,000 in 2008. That brings the total number of internally displaced people in Colombia to between three and four million, among the highest in the world, and growing.

Forced displacement has paved the way for misappropriation of lands, mostly by paramilitaries but also by guerrilla groups. It is estimated that more than four million hectares of land may have been stolen by paramilitaries in this way.

Displacement is one of the greatest threats facing indigenous communities, as in the case of Colombia. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that this happens in areas where oil, rich minerals and remarkable biodiversity is in evidence. International mining, agribusiness and the extractors of oil have a vested interest in these territories, all at the expense of the people who have a right to live on these lands.

We know that multinationals, including Canadian business interests, are in Colombia and are participating in the exploitation of resources.

According to the Colombian director of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, when this displacement to urban centres occurs it becomes very complicated since most of the indigenous women do not know Spanish very well. The immensity of the city frightens them with its anonymity and the lack of solidarity among residents. The women face new problems in raising their children and relating to their partners because the city is not a customary environment. In addition to this uncomfortable environment is the anguish of leaving their homes, running with what little they had or could carry in order to outrun death and desolation.

Accepting new, unfamiliar realities and activities not traditional to indigenous cultures, results in culture shock and disorientation. People experience a way of life and language radically different from their own. This fracturing can result in a breakdown of cultural continuity as young people find themselves in alien environments and deprived of the social and cultural networks and practices necessary for the survival of their communities.

Displaced people are at a heightened risk of destitution, sexual violence, exploitation by criminal gangs, armed groups and discrimination. Even in places in which they seek refuge, they may face further intimidation or violence and have to flee again. The inadequate state response to the needs of internally displaced communities means that some people return to the dangerous situations they fled, and without support or safeguards that should be provided by the state.

The right to traditional lands is crucial to indigenous peoples in Colombia, as elsewhere. It is a vital element in their sense of identity, livelihood and way of life and is crucial for their future.

This of course brings me to the motion put forward by the Liberal Party that it claims would protect human rights in Colombia. This motion would allow Colombia to monitor its own human rights and report on this monitoring if the Colombian government chooses to do that. This is completely inadequate. When one considers the murders, torture and displacement of people, this motion is a sham.

It is clear that the official opposition wants nothing more than to sign onto the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement despite the human, environmental and ethical cost.

I wonder what Canadians would say if they knew that in this month's legislative elections, independent observers were there and reported vote-buying and fraud that allowed narco-paramilitary candidates to maintain influence over the Colombian congress, or about the plea to the Canadian Council for International Co-operation from the Colombian Methodist Church bishop, Juan Alberto Cardona, during his visit to Canada in 2007. The Bishop said, “we know from other places, like Mexico, that these agreements might create more wealth for wealthy people but they make inequities worse. Whatever wealth is created, it does not reach poor people”.

The Colombia-Canada free trade agreement was signed behind the backs of the Colombian people, without any real participation from civil society and without any study on its impact. This is something that must be made clear to this Parliament and the people of Canada. The stage is set for further and increased human rights violations.

Colombians have asked Canadian society and this Parliament to demonstrate solidarity with the Colombian people by mobilizing against and refusing to sign the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

For the sake of humanity, we need to listen. When will the current government and the official opposition finally listen?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the questions raised had to do with other jurisdictions and what they were doing. The U.K., Australia, the U.S. and the EU have all had some discussions and activity with regard to trade arrangements with Colombia.

However, I do understand that there has been disagreement. President Obama is very ambitious to improve foreign exports but in his last speech did not mention Colombia as being one of the sources. It would appear that the Congress has one view and the president has another. I wonder if the member has any information on the current status of the trade discussion in the United States.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not at all surprised that there is confusion. As we look around this Parliament, all we see is mass confusion. One of the things I did want to touch on, apart from saying that the Belgian government is absolutely against this trade agreement, is the reality that multinationals have interests in Colombia. There are all kinds of important resources there, including oil and gold.

I do not think that it is at all a coincidence that when the Americans built their military bases in Colombia, they built them over oil fields. I wonder who they were protecting and exactly what they were protecting. In the case of Canadian mineral companies, I know that Canadians were involved in the extraction of gold. If one knows anything about the extraction of gold in Colombia, one would know that it used to be done by villagers and the community. They would extract the gold and sell it.

Some years ago, at the insistence of multinationals, the Colombian government nationalized these gold fields and cut them away from the villagers. When the villagers tried to reclaim their homes and their way of life, they were faced with paramilitaries and slaughter. It would seem to me that, in light of this kind of reality, we should be questioning what any government supporting a free trade agreement with Colombia has as its motive.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech has certainly had the effect of stirring up some Liberal reaction. At least the Liberals are now asking questions about the deal. Groups across Canada such as the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the B.C. teachers, the CLC and many other groups have been sending letters and reacting to what the Liberal Party and its critic are doing in terms of propping up and promoting this particular piece of legislation.

The amendment by the member for Kings—Hants and accepted by the government, which resurrects this basically dead agreement, allows Colombian authorities to self-assess their human rights record on an annual basis. This is not a good sign.

What effect does the member think this amendment is going to have on the overall agreement and the implementation of the agreement as far as Canada and Colombia are concerned? How does she think the Liberals believe this amendment is going to help solve this problem?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, this amendment is just too cozy by half. We know that a Liberal government brought forward the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement initially and was desperate to see it go through the House of Commons and become law. Now, the Conservative government has taken up its clarion call.

I would be very suspicious of any kind of so-called amendment that allows the government of Colombia to monitor things like human rights violations and the deprivation of indigenous people based on its record. It has allowed state-sponsored terror. It is the state that has failed to protect the trade unionists and indigenous people. As often as not, we have seen the state as perpetrator and coordinator of the nationalization of resources that deprives the people of the country their due.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to make some comments with regard to Bill C-2 concerning a free trade deal with Colombia.

I spoke to the bill when it was before us in the last session. Listening to the debate, it is quite clear that there are sincere concerns regarding human rights impacts and the free trade deal with Colombia. The history certainly has been put on the table and the impacts on labour and other matters. There also have been numerous references to other countries that have considered trade deals with the country of Colombia.

I want to simply put on the record that I will be supporting the bill at second reading to go to committee because quite frankly there has been a lot of contradiction in the debate, although the issues that are being addressed are very relevant. For some the issue of human rights priorities and trade priorities are incompatible in terms of considering them at one point.

There are some very interesting statistics. In looking at the web today I noted that the number of convictions, those who were tried for murder, has gone up dramatically in the last three years. The number of incidences of attacks on people related to business related activity, in fact, has done down, but it is not zero, and it would not be zero in any country I am sure.

However, it would appear, at least from the statistical information coming out that it is better today than it was 10 years ago, but the point still remains that there are huge concerns. If I look at the Brussels press, March 24, the headline says that in Colombia there is a gulf between human rights rhetoric and reality.

Therefore, there is some question. In fact, the Belgian chamber of representatives, representing trade unionists and Amnesty International heard denunciations of human rights violations, especially the murder of trade unionists and indigenous people, forced displacement and extrajudicial executions, as well as DAS's surveillance of Belgian NGOs. Belgian politicians currently oppose a trade agreement with Colombia over violations of human and labour rights.

Therefore, there is certainly one country that has taken this to a level of concern where it is not supporting a trade deal with Colombia.

In The Washington Times of March 4, 2010, interestingly I found that President Obama has been very aggressive in terms of promoting new export trade as part of his economic action plan, if I could borrow the words from across the way. One thing is what the president wishes, the other thing is what Congress is going to do. In this article of March 4, The Washington Times, entitled “Kirk gets pressure on trade deals” the policy makers indicate that they are facing political timing issues. The article states:

Unless Congress considers one of the agreements before the Memorial Day break, he doesn't expect any to come into play until after the November elections.

Therefore, technically I suppose it is fair to say that most of the work in terms of trade deals in the United States may not be dealt with until 2011 or later. So, we have time to consider this. It also says:

Mr. Obama's first major trade initiative in his own right will focus on his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Negotiators from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore and Brunei will convene in Melbourne, Australia.

But there is no talk of Colombia.

In the The Washington Times of Friday, March 12, the headline states, “Trade deficit dips; exports, imports fall”. It states at the end:

On Thursday, the president issued an executive order formalizing the National Export Initiative to further his goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years in part “by working to remove trade barriers abroad”. The executive order did not mention the pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia--

It would appear that the U.S. government is not considering a Colombia trade deal to be a priority at this time. In The Washington Times of March 11, it stated:

President Obama on Thursday ordered an all-out effort by the U.S. government to increase exports--

Again, this confirms that Democrats are opposed to free trade deals in part because of South Korea's imposition of restrictions on U.S. imports and the attacks on Colombian labour leaders. This is in the United States. It has been raised in this place, as well.

It is not irrelevant to talk about the impact of trade on human rights and vice versa the impact of human rights on viable trade. These are very valid questions.

I raise these because we are at second reading, and the members are scouring some of the latest media and some of the things we received while we were dealing with this at second reading in the last session. There are some messages here from Colombian legislators who say that trade is going to be an important element of improving the human rights conditions of the people. This is the scenario.

Is this a wish and a hope, or is this a reality? That is a very important question. It is a very important question for us to consider, whether or not there is clear evidence that improved trade relations with other countries and having that ability to have that dialogue with them is going to have some benefit to countries where human rights issues have become a problem.

Last week when the debate commenced, the member for Kings—Hants spoke very eloquently about some of the issues. Also, in recognition of the concerns regarding human rights, he indicated to the House, in fact, in a question to the minister, that an arrangement had been reached with Colombia with regard to a reciprocal or bilateral approach to dealing with reports on the impact of this free trade agreement on the human rights situation.

I would like to read into the record and remind members of the points that the government has accepted in terms of amendments to the bill that are related, to try to address this. This is from Hansard of March 24, page 887, where the member for Kings—Hants said:

First, there must be a prior written agreement between the governments of Canada and Colombia, where each country provides annual reports to their respective parliaments on the impact of this FTA on human rights in both Canada and Colombia.

Second, Bill C-2 must be amended at committee by adding, “The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of Parliament by March 31 of each year or, if that House is not then sitting, on any of the thirty days next thereafter that it is sitting, a report of operations for the previous calendar year, containing a general summary of all actions taken under the authority of this Act, and an analysis of the impact of these actions on human rights in Canada and Colombia”.

It would appear that there is some openness to considering the merits of entering into a trade relationship, a free trade deal, with Colombia, and that there is this understanding that there will be an annual assessment of the impacts on human rights of the trade deal that is taking place.

Members will know that bilateral trade between our two countries is not very large. It is in the range of about $1 billion. I am very hopeful that the committee will be open to having any and all expert witnesses to advise it on the facts because there have been some contradictions in debate.

I think it is extremely important that if hon. members are to make an informed decision, they will have to receive those facts and it will have to happen at committee.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I feel sorry for the member for Mississauga South. He has been literally whipsawed by his caucus over the last year on this very issue.

Last year, at the Standing Committee on International Trade, his party supported an independent human rights assessment, and that honestly was the correct position to take. In the meantime, that party changed leaders and critics, and now the new critic is headed off in a different direction.

The member for Kings—Hants knows what the American position is because we were in Washington recently, meeting with congressional representatives. We were told by republicans that regardless of what Obama said in the State of the Union Address, Congress in no way would deal with this issue. While all this was happening, the member for Kings—Hants was making arrangements with the Colombian government to introduce this amendment.

As the member has rightly pointed out, the amendment talks about allowing the Colombians to self-assess. This is in no way on any sort of scale with the idea of having an independent human rights assessment. I do not think anybody would disagree with that.

I do not understand why the member is now willing to compromise and accept this amendment when he should support the Liberal Party's previous position at committee.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to this bill, as I have in the past, because constituents in my riding have raised the matter with me and I want to let them know I am taking an interest in trying to inform myself. I certainly reject the member's suggestion that somehow I am doing something. I am here representing my constituents.

Let me conclude simply by referring to this quote:

Much of Canadian investment will be in the extractive industry; it is in regions of the country where the extractive industry operates where 75% of human rights violations and displacements occur. There are no guarantees that...companies will not be indirectly affecting the well-being of local communities in such an environment.

I agree with that. Canadians deserve some assurances that all appropriate steps will be taken to ensure there are no unintended negative consequences with regard to entering into this deal.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Liberal member.

First, let us review the facts. When the committee report was tabled, it had a specific recommendation. I will not quote it, but I hope to get the idea across. It recommended that we not sign this free trade agreement until someone had examined the human rights situation, this situation had improved, and the improvements were maintained.

In committee, the opposition, or the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, needed the support of the Liberals. At the time, the Liberals agreed. They are now saying they would be happy with a yearly study or analysis. But what will that change if there are no changes made to human rights? The agreement will be signed and there will be no way to encourage Colombia to improve its human and environmental rights.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the committee reported back to the House and recommended that there be an independent human rights assessment done. I did not just take it at face value. I wanted to find out who would do this. Therefore, I spoke with Amnesty International and asked if it would conduct an independent human rights assessment for Colombia, and the answer was no.

That is a problem. It is one thing to ask for something; it is another thing to deliver it. It would appear that no one has come forward to say that there would be any benefit in trying to do some sort of an assessment.

I believe the question the member has raised has to be brought up at committee to find out whether there is a credible independent organization that even would be prepared to do such a study.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I take my turn in joining the hon. members of the Bloc Québécois who have spoken in large numbers today regarding BillC-2 on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

This debate has been going on for nearly two years in the House of Commons. So many things have been said. We know that the Bloc Québécois will resolutely oppose this agreement so long as it contains no guarantees on the protection of human rights. But we are seeing more and more examples. Every day we learn that, in many situations in Colombia, workers’ rights are not respected. The failure to respect the rights of individuals is also decried.

What we know is that the Canadian government wants to conclude a free trade agreement which is basically more about investment than trade. It is thought that this agreement, as drafted, will make life easier for Canadian investors, and in particular, it must be said, those who want to invest in mining in Colombia.

If we look closely at this agreement, we see that it contains provisions allowing investors to take a foreign government to court when that government adopts measures that reduce the returns on their investments. Such provisions are especially dangerous in a country where laws governing labour and the protection of the environment are, at best, haphazard.

The Bloc Québécois feels that by protecting a Canadian investor against any improvement in the living conditions in Colombia, such an agreement increases the risk of delaying social and environmental progress in that country, even though it is in great need of such progress.

We know—and I think there is no lack of evidence—that Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and certainly in Latin America. With the signing of this free trade agreement, Canada would forego any ability to bring pressure to bear on this country to get things changed and bring about more respect for human rights.

The government repeats that the agreement comes with a side agreement on labour and another on the environment. However we believe that these agreements are completely ineffective. As I was saying earlier, the Bloc is against trading away the government's ability to press for human rights to provide Canadian corporations with foreign investment opportunities.

The members of the Bloc and the NDP have spoken out loud and clear against this bill. It is sad to hear the Liberals so easily abandoning their tradition of human rights advocacy. They are prepared to drop their opposition to this bill for an amendment which, in our view, is not acceptable either. Numerous groups and associations are critical of this agreement. I will name a few of them. These are not small organizations: they are large organizations representing many members.

I listened to the Liberal member who spoke before me saying that he listens to the people in his riding. It is true, that is important. The people in my riding are loud and clear in asking me to oppose this agreement as well as the amendment, or the idea that one Liberal member came up with to try and see if it were possible to get this agreement adopted.

The person advising me is someone very much committed to the defence of human rights, who works with a major labour confederation in Quebec and the FTQ, which represents over 800,000 workers. I was saying earlier that our thinking and our decisions are supported by the people we represent in Quebec. I can say that certain pressures are coming from them as well.

We are also talking with the following organizations: the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the FTQ, Development & Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Lawyers Without Borders Canada, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the CSN and the National Union of Public and General Employees.

These groups, associations and unions are begging the Bloc Québécois to stay the course and to oppose this bill. This is about respecting human rights, but it is also about protecting trade unionists. Since 2006, more than 2,400 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia, and the murders continue. The Liberals may say that the situation has improved, but they will have to show me concrete examples that prove that the change is substantial and not merely a minor adjustment. If that were the case, the Bloc could change its position on the bill, as the Liberals have done.

A newspaper article caught my eye and I think it is worthwhile to quote some passages from it, because it affected me greatly. Le Figaro of last March 20, contained the following article:

A veteran Colombian journalist, Clodomiro Castillo, was murdered by a hired killer in Monteria, a city in the department of Cordoba, in the north of Colombia...

Clodomiro Castillo, who ran the magazine El Pulso del Tiempo and the radio station La Voz, was shot yesterday by a man on a motorcycle...the journalist had focused on exposing corruption...and had received threats that led authorities to provide him with special protection, which was recently withdrawn.

The journalist had also testified for the prosecution in a number of cases that exposed links between politicians, local businessmen and ultra-right paramilitary groups, said Ivan Cepeda, director of the NGO National Movement of Victims of State Crimes.

“His death is an attack on those in the department of Cordoba who have demanded an investigation into the links between the paramilitary and factions in political and economic life,” said Ivan Cepeda, speaking on the private radio station Caracol.

The situation shows no sign of improving. Even with the amendment that could be introduced, and even with an agreement to report annually on the human rights record, by signing this agreement, Canada will lose its leverage and its ability to exert pressure on Colombia to end its unacceptable human rights practices.

As I have already mentioned, there are many examples. The Conservatives have taken their position and will not change their minds. But I hope that the Liberals will do the right thing by refusing to support this bill.

In its June 2008 report, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development refused to approve the bill without an independent assessment of the impact of the agreement on human rights. I hope that the Liberals will review their position and will oppose Bill C-2.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly understand the member's position. I can assure her that in my riding I have not heard anyone say that he or she is in favour of the free trade agreement with Colombia. I want to reflect in this place that the people who have communicated with me are more concerned about human rights than they are about incremental trade with Colombia.

I want to ask the member if she is aware that the U.S. Department of State on September 8, 2009 certified to Congress that the Colombian government and armed forces were meeting statutory criteria to human rights and paramilitary groups. It also indicated, “There is no question that improvement must be made in certain areas; however, the Colombian government has made significant efforts to increase the security of its people and to promote respect for human rights”.

It would appear that the United States is not blindly going into this. I wonder if the member is aware of any other information about the considerations that other jurisdictions are making prior to entering into a free trade agreement with Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. Actually, we have to get to the bottom of things. The hon. member is very experienced. He is a veteran parliamentarian with a lot of experience, and he knows we must also look at what is behind this bill.

It is hard to understand why Canada would want to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia. In fact, the purpose of signing a free trade agreement is trade. But we do not see the attraction that this trade would provide. How is it worth the trouble when the people and the workers of Colombia have to be abandoned?

So I have a hard time understanding why the Liberals are still supporting Bill C-2.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a follow-up to what the member for Mississauga South said.

It is very clear to me that he is one of the members of the Liberal caucus who does not support this agreement. He really does not like it at all. As a matter of fact, he is practically the only caucus member who has shown up in the House to make a speech on this bill, but he does not have a lot of good ground to work with.

He indicated that he had tried to find an independent human rights impact assessment group that would actually carry out this independent assessment. He said that Amnesty International would not do it. He left it there and said that now the member for Kings—Hants has proposed an amendment and the solution is that we are going to let the Colombians do it themselves.

If he is not really sure about where he was before, clearly he does not agree with the member for Kings—Hants that it is acceptable to allow Colombians to do their own human rights assessment.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the NDP member.

I hope to be able to influence the Liberals on this side and explain to them that, basically, for trade to be mutually beneficial, it must first be fair. That is where everything starts.

A trading system that results in the exploitation of the poorest countries and dumping in the richest countries is not viable. The Bloc Québécois cannot trade viability for an agreement that allows exploitation in Colombia.

So we should look at what is behind this agreement, and see in whose interest it is that the agreement be signed and who will benefit from it.

When we engage in trade, it must be fair, but that is not the case with this agreement, which is completely unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to join in this debate, but it seems an unfortunate circumstance that again we have to engage the government and its very loyal official opposition in respect to trade deals. The bill we are speaking to today, Bill C-2, was Bill C-23 in the previous Parliament before the government undemocratically shut down the House, thereby killing its own legislation. That is an ironic way to run government. For a government that claims to be in such a hurry to open up trade deals like this, the question is whether this trade deal meets the standard of morality and ethics that most Canadians hold.

Let us quickly go through aspects of the bill. There are two central concerns.

One is if we believe the press releases from the member for Kings—Hants, the bill was first negotiated on a dance floor over a couple of rum and Cokes in Colombia with a foreign trade minister. If this story is true, and we have to take it with a grain of salt when it comes to the member for Kings--Hants and how he enters into the media, this is a strange way for the government to have trade relations with a foreign government. An opposition member goes dancing with the other country's trade minister and at the end of the night they decide why not have a trade deal together but they will not put in any uncomfortable conditions as to how to treat the environment or how to deal with human rights complaints because that would be cumbersome for trade.

When we boil this down, the question before the House and before Canadians is, will the Government of Canada finally take the evolutionary step of moving from blanket carte blanche free trade deals to fair trade deals? Will it move to deals between this country and its democratically elected representatives and foreign nations that lift up both countries and in particular address aspects of trade, such as the environment, human rights and labour codes? Clearly in Bill C-2, formerly Bill C-23, there is little or no mention of these important concerns. These are concerns that everyday Canadians have.

A second aspect is the net benefit, the true benefit to Canada. All of us were elected to this place and came here seeking to make lives better for those whom we represent. We would want any trade deal put forward by the government to enhance the quality of life not just in the other country, but also in Canada. We have seen time and time again that when regulations and the values of this country are not placed in those trade deals, they go awry.

My riding in northwestern British Columbia has been an unfortunate victim of trade deals signed by previous Liberal and Conservative governments. We know all too well what happens when a trade deal is signed. So-called foreign investment comes in, but it is simply a foreign takeover. The jobs go away. The investment is not investment; it is simply a robbing of Canadians' greatest crown jewels, and corporate entities that used to provide jobs in this country now provide them somewhere else and the interests of Canadians are no longer represented.

For members who have not spent time in Latin America this can be difficult to understand. Democratically elected governments in places like Colombia, Peru or Ecuador will institute what are called paramilitary death squads or groups that go out and simply take care of any opposition to the sitting government. This is an abhorrent practice which unfortunately is all too common in some of the countries in the south; not all and not all the time, but it exists. To ignore the existence of such practices is either naive or outright ignorant. Particularly with the Uribe government in Colombia it is well documented, and all members in this place should be concerned, that it is a government that presents itself to the world as diplomatic and democratic, yet at home treats trade union officials and groups that dare to raise dissent to the sitting government with the utmost of severe and punishing violence.

The proposals the New Democrats have put forward in order to encourage this Parliament along, in order to entice the government toward fair trade, have been rather precise and simple. A review of human rights abuses in the trading country, in the partner that we seek to sign this agreement with, should be done independently by a group not associated with the said government.

We are saying that if this trade deal were to go ahead, there should be an independent commission to look at the complaints raised against Colombia, identify them and report to both elected houses. That commission would tell us what happened in the last year, the allegations, the ones it thinks are true, and the concerns that we should be raising.

The suggestion that we have an independent human rights council, which already exists by the way, able to report to both houses of each country, seems to us to be a most reasonable suggestion, a push toward something that all Canadians would agree with. We want trade to enhance the quality of life of our trading partners. We do not want our trade to facilitate the opposite effect.

This addresses an ideology within some members of the House that trade automatically equals democratic improvement, that anywhere there has been a notion of a free trade agreement or a new, enhanced trading practice, a sweeping wave, the invisible hand of the market will step in and lift up the voices of the independents in that country, allowing people independent thought and expression in the political sphere.

Some of the strongest trading partnerships we have are with countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on. We have been trading with Saudi Arabia for 70 or 80 years. Has there been the democratic improvement that is always promised with these trade negotiations? Has the plight of women in Saudi Arabia improved because we continue to buy its oil and services?

It is not implicit. There is nothing implicit in trade that says democratic reforms will come to that place, that human rights conditions will improve. There is nothing in trading with another country that says that as soon as we start to trade with them, things will automatically get better with respect to the environment, labour laws, and the basic reforms of social democracy.

There is nothing in this agreement that enables that either. That is the concern New Democrats have put forward to the government. We have pleaded with the government and the Liberals at committee and in the House. We are not standing against the notion of trade with Colombia, but if we are going to trade with Colombia, we should do it in such a way that Canadians will be proud. We should do it in such a way that will enhance the lives of the Colombians who will be affected by our trade relationship.

Is that unreasonable? No. Yet time and time again we run into this brick wall of ideology that says to trade at all costs with no conditions. We see what the practices lead to. Undemocratic countries around the world that we have traded with for generations have not improved any of these things. Why? Because we do not ask for it. We have never asked to evolve our trade practices. We have never said let us seek to define and understand what fair trade would be like, so at the end of the day we would see those improvements. That seems reasonable to us.

I mentioned Skeena--Bulkley Valley earlier because the place that I represent has seen two distinct so-called instances of foreign investment, which the government somewhat rightly will laud whenever it has an increase in foreign investment numbers, money coming into the country, theoretically investing in Canada, to make our economy stronger.

Skeena Cellulose Inc., a multi-tiered forestry firm in northwestern British Columbia with some 3,500 employees, went through a bankruptcy. The foreign protection laws were erased by a previous Conservative government. A Chinese firm owned wholly by the Chinese government, not a subsidiary, not a subcontractor, with no record and no compunction whatsoever, came in and shut down the mill. It made promises to the people of Prince Rupert where the main mill had been situated and six years later nothing has been done. It has not opened a thing, and the 3,500 workers have had to find other work.

Rio Tinto Alcan, formerly Alcan, formerly a crown gem in Canada's industrial sector, was taken over by a firm from outside, again with no conditions from the government. In Kitimat, one of the communities where Alcan used to operate but now it is Rio Tinto, a promise of a future mill expansion has not come and it is killing the community. This is a story that unfortunately exists across this country.

All we are asking for is a reasonable trade policy. All we are asking for is a fair trade policy from the government, one that we can all stand behind and support, one that Colombians will congratulate us for, one that will truly lift up the lives of all those concerned, not one as has been presented by the government with false promises and no hope for renewal.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, a large number of members have made representations during this debate about the number of unionist homicides. For the public information, they should know what the facts are as reported by the ministry of social protection and the attorney general in Colombia.

Between 1986 and 1990, there were 336 homicides, no sentences proffered.

Between 1991 to 1994, there were 509 homicides, no sentences, no prosecutions.

Between 1995 to 1998, there were 720 homicides, no prosecutions.

Between 1999 to 2001, there were 603 homicides, 7 prosecutions.

Between 2002 to 2006, there were 315 homicides, 47 prosecutions.

Between 2007 to December 20, 2009, there were 109 homicides, 185 sentences proffered.

I think the figures speak for themselves. This is a very serious problem. The members who have raised the issue are warranted to raise these concerns. I simply offer this as a comment. This matter has to be dealt with thoroughly at committee.