Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with my colleague from Toronto—Danforth.
It only feels like yesterday that I spoke to this bill. In fact, it was two days ago and it was on this very bill.
I want to begin by saying how disappointed I am that we are ramming this bill through, a bill that has everything to do with the need to respect democratic processes—which we are not doing through this agreement and which is not happening in Honduras—and the need to delve into what this trade agreement is all about. Fundamentally, it is a trade agreement that will not bring benefit to Canadians but will benefit a few people in specific sectors that are close to the government.
I am concerned, not just as a Canadian member of Parliament but as a Canadian, that Canada is embarking on a journey and into a relationship with a country that in recent years has proven its complete disregard for the principles that guide us in this place: democracy, respect for the rule of law, and human rights. We are engaging in a relationship to benefit the very same people who have imposed an oppressive regime that in some cases has been involved in persecution and is as far away from the Canadian value set as we can get.
I rise in this House in consideration of not just the benefit to Canadians, which is not being realized through this free trade agreement, but also of the reality that Hondurans face. While Honduras is not a country that I have had a chance to visit, I have had the experience of travelling in Central America and seeing or hearing first-hand a very dark history that people in countries across Latin America have had with military coup d'états, with the fight for democracy, with the fight for human rights. Sadly, while many Central American countries, such as Chile and Argentina, have shaken off that dark history, Honduras has just recently re-embarked on that same undemocratic dictatorial path.
As we know, Honduras is a very poor country with a seriously flawed human rights record and a history of repressive, undemocratic politics. The democratically elected government of left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was toppled by a military coup in 2009, and subsequent governmental actions and elections have been heavily criticized by international observers as failing to meet acceptable democratic standards. In 2009, five short years ago, Honduras underwent a military coup, and it continues to be a repressive and regressive environment. Thanks to the current government, this is the country we are now going to engage with as part of this free trade relationship.
We have heard a lot of talk about the underground economy. We have heard about the predominance of the drug trade. We have heard about the lack of legitimate and positive economic opportunities for the people of Honduras. We have also heard how this free trade agreement will not do anything to change that reality. In fact, in many ways it will continue to legitimize a regime that is oppressive toward the Honduran people. As a New Democrat, I am proud to stand with my party in opposition to this bill.
We believe that there are three fundamentally important criteria to assess trade agreements, including this one.
First, does the proposed partner respect democracy, human rights, adequate environmental and labour standards, and Canadian values? If there are challenges in this regard, is the partner on a positive trajectory toward these goals? We know that Honduras has failed in this regard.
Second, is the proposed partner's economy of significant or strategic value to Canada? We know that there is particular interest from the Canadian government in the mining sector and in certain agricultural sectors, but by and large, given that Honduras only represents about 1% of our trade, this will not make or break the Canadian economy by any stretch of the imagination, so this proposed agreement does not meet the second criterion.
Third, are the terms of the proposed agreement satisfactory? Again, it is a resounding fail.
This trade agreement, like every trade agreement that is negotiated by the current government, has been behind closed doors, without the kind of transparent process that we, as parliamentarians, ought to be able to access but, more important, that Canadians ought to be able to engage in.
For all of these three reasons, for all of these three failures, we in the NDP cannot support this free trade agreement.
I want to read into the record some words of people who are very close to the situation in Honduras who have come before Parliament and have spoken very strongly against this agreement.
Stacey Gomez, coordinator of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation's Americas Policy Group, said:
We have long maintained that under the right conditions, trade can generate growth and support the realization of human rights. These conditions simply do not exist in Honduras. Until there is a verifiable improvement in the country’s democratic governance and human rights situation, the Canada-Honduras FTA will do more harm than good.
The Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras said:
One of the main concerns in Honduras is the consistent trend of killings, physical attacks and threats against human rights defenders – including: Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant and peasant leaders, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) activists, lawyers and journalists. All these attacks are carried out with almost total impunity.
Carmen Cheung, a researcher in the International Human Rights Program, said to the committee, on April 10:
These past five years have seen a dramatic erosion in protections for expressive life in Honduras. Journalists are threatened, they're harassed, attacked, and murdered with near impunity, and sometimes in circumstances that strongly suggest the involvement of state agents.... Among the journalists and human rights defenders we spoke with, there is a pervasive sense that they are under threat, and that the state is, at best, unable or unwilling to defend them, or at worst, complicit in the abuses.
These are chilling words from people who are not speaking in the abstract. They work closely on the ground with labour activists, with journalists, with lesbian and gay activists, with indigenous peoples. They know the cost of human life, the cost to democratic rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association, that this military coup has meant to the people of Honduras. They are saying, unequivocally, that “We cannot support this free trade agreement”.
I want to particularly emphasize the comments made by Ms. Cheung and made by the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras with reference to how state agents are complicit in these abuses.
The current government wants to enter into a relationship and support the state agents who, we are hearing here, are involved in these kinds of human rights abuses.
My question is, what has happened to Canada, a country that over years and through the hard work of Canadians in their insistence that the respect for human rights needs to guide our international work, whether it is trade or our involvement in multilateral institutions, that the importance of human rights is fundamental to who we are as Canadians is clearly not represented in the government's actions through Bill C-20, through this free trade agreement but, furthermore, in a range of actions that the government has shown over its tenure?
That is why I am proud to rise in this House and share the words of human rights activists who are calling upon us to oppose the free trade agreement, who are demanding better for Canadians, who are demanding better for the people of Honduras. I am proud to stand with the party that, in this House, night after night, day after day, is fighting for the very principle that so many Canadians believe is so important to us: human rights and the fundamental principle of democracy.