Mr. Speaker, here I am, not quite at prime time in British Columbia but getting late here in Ontario, to oppose Bill C-20 at report stage. I spoke on this bill at second reading and clearly stated my fears about the bill, and many other New Democrats did so. However, here is the bill back at report stage with no changes. It is clear that the government has not been listening when it comes to our arguments about the ill-advised nature of signing a free trade agreement with Honduras.
In fact, I guess I have to say again that I often wonder if the government members have heard anything we have had to say on the topic of free trade. This goes so far as Conservative members continuing to stand in the House to say regularly that New Democrats have never supported a single free trade agreement. In fact, of course, that is not true. We supported the free trade agreement between Canada and Jordan. New Democrats have always said we need to evaluate each proposed trade agreement on the basis of objective criteria and not just endorse any and all trade agreements, no matter who the partner or what the cost to Canada's economy, on the basis of some uncritical belief in the god of free trade.
We believe there are three fundamentally important criteria we should use in assessing trade agreements: is the proposed partner one who respects democracy, human rights, adequate environmental and labour standards, and Canadian values; second, is the proposed partner's economy of significance or strategic value to Canada; and third, are the terms of this proposed agreement satisfactory? Just as the agreement with Jordan clearly met these tests and, therefore, New Democrats supported it in the House, I believe the one with Honduras just as clearly fails all three of these tests.
Once again, today I want to focus on the first test: is Honduras a country that respects democracy, human rights, adequate environmental and labour standards, and Canadian values? Why have we chosen to negotiate a trade deal with Honduras, a country with a history of repressive, undemocratic politics and a seriously flawed human rights record? The democratically elected government of left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by a military coup in 2009. The coup was carried out by the Honduran army under the pretext of a constitutional crisis that had developed between the Supreme Court and the President over his progressive social policies.
The coup was widely condemned around the world, including by all other Latin American nations, the European Union, the United States, and the UN General Assembly. Canada at that point should have considered sanctions against this de facto regime and condemnation of its systematic abuses of human rights in its aftermath. Instead, what have we done? We have continued to pursue closer economic relations with Honduras without any conditions.
In January 2010, President Sosa assumed the presidency through what almost all deemed undemocratic and illegitimate elections. Since then, there has been one more set of elections, this one also carried out in a climate of fear and intimidation. Just as the first election was clearly illegitimate, the second election has been marked by violence and serious allegations of voter fraud.
What is the message Canada is sending here? Conservatives have chosen to press forward with a trade agreement with an undemocratic regime like that in Honduras while breaking off trade talks with neighbouring El Salvador after it elected a progressive government. This is surely the wrong signal and not a message that most Canadians would support.
Does this mean Honduras could never be a good prospect for a trade agreement? Obviously not, but we on this side would want to see some evidence of an intention to return to democracy in Honduras and some evidence of a commitment to address Honduras' appalling human rights record.
Let me return again to that human rights record of Honduras, which I spoke about earlier at second reading.
There is, of course, a clear link between the lack of democracy and the lack of protection of basic rights in Honduras. International human rights organizations have documented serious human rights abuses, including killings; arbitrary detentions of thousands of people; severe restrictions on public demonstrations, protests, and freedom of expression; and interference with the independence of the judiciary. These are all well-established facts.
The leading Honduran human rights group, known as COFADEH, documented that at least 16 activists and candidates for the main opposition party were assassinated since June of 2012, and 15 more survived attacks on their person. There are extensively documented cases of police corruption, with 149 extrajudicial killings of civilians by police recorded between January 2011 and November 2012 alone.
Many Conservatives, including the Minister of International Trade, have suggested that Honduras is coming out of a difficult period and that there are improvements being made. The facts, however, paint a much different picture. Let us look again at what international human rights organizations have most recently said about the situation in Honduras.
I raised these assessments of Honduras human rights record at the second reading debate, and I heard nothing from the government side to refute this evidence.
Let me quote again from Amnesty International's written statement to the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, March 2014, which was called “Honduras: Deteriorating human rights situation needs urgent measures”. That is a “deteriorating” human rights situation, not improving. Let me quote briefly from that report:
Amnesty International is increasingly concerned about the human rights situation in Honduras, in particular about human rights violations against human rights defenders, women and girls, Indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino...communities, and LGBTI people. These violations take place in a context where impunity for human rights violations and abuses is endemic....
I want to draw attention, again, to two groups that continue to be subject to extreme levels of violence in Honduras: journalists and transgender Hondurans. According, again, to Honduras' own national human rights commission, 36 journalists were killed between 2003 and mid-2013, making Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Journalists in Honduras continue to suffer threats, attacks, and killings, including the kidnapping and murder of a prominent TV news anchor in June 2013 and the murder of a prominent radio personality in April 2014. Authorities have consistently failed to investigate any of these crimes against journalists.
Attacks on journalists and opposition candidates are, of course, an attack on democracy and a serious concern when they take place in a country with which Canada is contemplating signing an international trade agreement.
I want to draw attention to another group that has been subject to even higher levels of violence in Honduras, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, but in particular the transgender community. Again, why would Canada seek an agreement with Honduras in view of its appalling record of violence against the LGBTQ community, especially when the Minister of Foreign Affairs has made many statements in defence of gay rights in other forums?
Lest we be fooled by the Minister of International Trade's assertion that things are getting better, let me provide some updates on how things are actually getting worse for transgender Hondurans.
Transrespect, the group that attempts to document violence against the transgender community for the annual transgender day of remembrance, documented eight trans murders in Honduras in 2012 and 12 transgender murders in 2013. The number is going up, not going down. This brings the total, between 2008 and 2013, to 60 transgender murders in only six years in Honduras.
This gives Honduras the horrible distinction of being the country with the highest per capita transgender murder rate in the world, more than double the second-highest rate.
In the month of May this year alone, there were four serious incidents, including three assassinations of public figures in Honduras. These should give us pause in our enthusiasm for a trade deal with Honduras.
On May 4, Orlando Orellana, 75, chair of a local community board outside the city of San Pedro Sula, a community that is involved in a land dispute with a development company, was assassinated. Mr. Orellana had assumed his position as chair of the board after the assassination of the previous chair in 2012. No arrests have been made in either of these deaths.
Casa Alianza Honduras, an organization that works with street children, issued a report in early May documenting the killing of 270 street children and young people in Honduras in the first three months of this year. On May 8, two days after this report was made public, José Guadalupe Ruelas, the director of Casa Alianza Honduras, was severely beaten by the military police in front of the presidential palace and denied medical attention. He did, however, survive.
On May 16, the mayor of one of the cities in the northeast of Honduras was assassinated. He had been a strong advocate of free medical care for the poor in Honduras.
Three days later, on May 19, a government forester was shot and killed in La Ceiba. This time the victim was José Alexander González Cerros, who worked in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve and who had recently reported illegal logging in the area.
Again, can the government seriously assert that things are getting better in Honduras?
Let me conclude by saying that Canadians expect our federal government to set a good example on the world stage, and that includes considering democracy and human rights as necessary parts of the criteria used in evaluating trade agreements. Clearly, Honduras fails to meet the standards that Canadians expect of our partners.