Mr. Speaker, I will pick up where I left off by recapitulating. I was telling the House that I was terribly disappointed to see this bill making it to third reading, thanks to the Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, imposing closure twice, once at the Standing Committee on International Trade and again in this House, in order to limit debate. Such reversal of position is disastrous and very disappointing coming from the Liberal Party.
The Conservatives keep telling us over and over that, in their opinion, the human rights situation in Colombia has greatly improved. I agree that the situation may not be as disastrous as it used to be, but it is far from ideal. People continue to be displaced and unionists to be murdered. Canada's former ambassador to Colombia, Mr. Matthew Levin, from whom the current ambassador took over, basically said the same thing. On the Colombian economy, he had this to say:
The [Canadian] government knows that the Colombian reality is not ideal. There is poverty, violence, lack of access to services.
There is more. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade, Pascal Paradis, of Lawyers without Borders, said that the UN and the Organization of American States considered that the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet was still going on in Colombia.
It is hard to believe that a government would push us and cut the debate short to incite us to pass this type of bill. If it passes, it will do so with the support of the Liberals alone and not the Bloc Québécois. We will do our utmost to keep opposing this bill and to say to the people of Quebec and Canada that this agreement is completely unacceptable due to human rights violations.
At the Standing Committee on International Trade, the Conservatives and Liberals often say that they have been there. I was not a member of the committee at that time. They say that the situation has improved, that workers' rights are better respected, that there is less displacement of people and fewer murders. That is what we hear from the people who have been there, but there are also people who are saying the exact opposite.
How can it be that there are credible people who are testifying that the situation has not improved that much? It is impossible that Canada—which was once regarded as a leader for its defence of human rights in various countries—is now promoting a free trade agreement with a country like Colombia.
In order to get an idea of the situation, since I did not go to Colombia, I have read a lot and listened to witnesses. I know that there are four people who think the opposite of what the Conservatives and Liberals are telling us. They say that the situation has not changed. I would like to lend them my voice and my speaking time because they also need to be heard. They were silenced when the debate was cut short. They were not able to appear before the committee.
In 2008, four Canadian public sector union leaders went to Colombia. They were: John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada; George Heyman, international vice-president of the National Union of Public and General Employees; Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers; and Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
They toured the country and produced a document with joint and individual statements about the status of human rights in Colombia. Their report paints a totally different picture than what the Conservative and Liberal members are telling us in the Standing Committee on International Trade.
In July 2008, these four public sector union leaders made a one-week tour of Colombia. What they saw and heard there prompted them to share their observations in the hope of making as many people as possible understand the dangers workers in this South American country face.
Having seen the damage unregulated commercial activity causes most Colombian families, the Canadian union leaders promised to deliver a message of concern, solidarity and resistance to their millions of members in Canada—which is nothing to sneeze at—the Canadian government and all Canadians.
This document and other measures are part of that process. The document contains comments and personal observations from the leaders, who met with many Colombians and listened to their concerns about the harmful effects of free trade with Canada on the Colombian people.
These union leaders were inspired by the hope these people cling to and the growing resistance movement they witnessed. During their tour, the leaders focused on human rights.
I am delivering this message on their behalf, because the Bloc Québécois' greatest concern is that the government is ignoring human rights violations. It needs to ignore them if it is going to ratify an agreement that makes no sense.
The union leaders focused on human rights and labour rights, working conditions and the impact of privatization without guaranteed human rights and labour rights. They shared their concerns with representatives of the many sectors of Colombian society, including the Colombian interior minister and other senior officials, the Canadian ambassador and members of his staff, leaders of the central union of workers or CUT and union leaders at all levels, members of the opposition party—the Polo Democrático Alternativo—leaders of the indigenous peoples' movement, members of NGOs, groups representing Afro-Colombians and other displaced persons, as well as journalists and ordinary people.
Although three of the four leaders had never travelled to Colombia before, their unions were already familiar with the struggles of Colombian workers. All four have been working at the international level with Colombian unions for a number of years. They have been cultivating union relations as part of projects funded by their international solidarity funds and through exchanges of Canadian and Colombian workers.
You might wonder why they would embark on such a tour. After returning from Colombia, they followed up with a video on how the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, which was only a proposal at the time, would be disastrous for these workers.
All the unions opposed the signing of such an agreement, especially in light of the horrifying human rights and labour situations in Colombia. The leaders knew very well that more trade unionists had been assassinated in that country than anywhere else in the world.
To strengthen the arguments against the free trade agreement and to consolidate the union solidarity already established, the leaders decided to go to see for themselves what the Government of Colombia had done to this South American country since President Uribe gained power in 2002. What they saw convinced them that they had to oppose the free trade agreement even more vigorously and in very clear terms. The leaders were asked many times to be the voice of the Colombian people and to oppose the agreement as long as the government of Alvaro Uribe has not shown that it has solved the problem of the permanent repression of trade unionists and other activists and guaranteed their protection.
This document gives them a voice and proves them right.
What we heard from the people who took this trip to Colombia gives even more weight to the fact that, in 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade also adopted a resolution that an independent, impartial, and comprehensive human rights impact assessment should be carried out before the Conservative government considered introducing its bill in the House.
Proof was needed, coming from an independent study, that human rights were being respected. Now, it is the opposite. The Liberals and Conservatives are breaking their word. A Liberal member even proposed an amendment suggesting that we wait for the agreement to come into effect and the bill to be passed.
They will be happy with an assessment of the situation by the Government of Colombia. Colombia will be both judge and judged, and Canada will be satisfied with that. This will allow the agreement to be adopted, when we know very well that the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement does not necessarily propose any major increases in trade between Canada and Colombia, but instead, aims almost solely to protect the investments of Canadian mining companies that will exploit natural resources and workers in Colombia.
It is truly unfortunate to watch this going on. The Bloc Québécois will vote against this agreement at third reading.