Madam Speaker, I would like to focus on the current social, human and political situation in Colombia, so as to explain why the Bloc Québécois opposes Bill C-23, Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.
It is important to consider the impact and repercussions that the terms of this agreement will have on the people of Colombia. We must ensure that the rights of Colombians are respected and that their opinions will be taken into account before we ratify such an agreement.
Civil society and the people of Colombia are opposed to a free trade agreement that enhances the rights of foreign investors and exporters, but does nothing to take into account local issues in terms of development and human rights.
Yes, trade can support development and the realization of human rights, if it brings benefits to vulnerable populations and allows those states that are willing to do so to promote development and protect the environment.
The uproar against this free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia is only growing in strength, in Canada and in Colombia. According to the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and the two side agreements—one on labour rights and the other on the environment—will only exacerbate the problem of human rights violations, and the legislative provisions meant to guarantee those rights and protect the environment will not work.
We cannot enter into a free trade agreement with Colombia without looking at the human rights situation in that country. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to life, security of the person, freedom of expression and freedom of association. It is therefore incomprehensible that the Canadian government should ratify a free trade agreement given the Colombian government's deplorable record of violating human and workers' rights.
Can the Canadian people, who consider themselves a democratic society and stand up for workers' rights, sanction a free trade agreement with a country where people put their lives at risk just by demonstrating or wanting to join a union? It is regrettable that the Canadian government is supporting a regime that is heavily involved in human rights violations and mired in a huge political scandal because of its ties to paramilitary groups.
Those responsible for the crimes against union members and civilians are very seldom found guilty in court. Only 3% of the crimes committed have led to a conviction and in the meantime, the paramilitaries are reasserting control over the territory, and the government is doing nothing to stop them.
In Colombia, it is easier to organize an armed paramilitary group than a union. The anti-union culture prevailing in Colombia makes it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for union members. A number of groups are targeted. The Liberal member who said that everything is great in Colombia must be hallucinating because when we examine what is happening we see that major groups such as teachers, those involved in labour disputes, those against privatization, women, children, prison guards and farmers are being targeted. Furthermore, thousands of people are being displaced.
I would like to cite just a few statistics: 2,685 union members have been killed in recent years, 474 of them since President Uribe came to power. Thousands of men, women and children have been threatened and even kidnapped. In 2008, 41 union members were killed and in 2009, 29 were murdered, as mentioned by the NDP member. More than 300,000 people were displaced in 2007 and more than 380,000 in 2008. That is unacceptable. Such displacement occurs more frequently in rural areas.
These people are being displaced with the support of mining companies and large agricultural companies, making this a major humanitarian issue, bigger than what is going on in Sudan. That says something.
Why is Canada, and especially a government like this one, acting like this? The Prime Minister has said:
I will sign trade agreements with parties who respect the rights we respect in Canada; fundamental values like democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance.
How can the Prime Minister and the current government sign, or try to sign, an agreement with Colombia?
Earlier, we spoke about paramilitary groups, and I said that it was easier to form this kind of group than to form a union. It is true that they are now called something else. We call them militias, the Black Eagles. They go by many names, but they continue to systematically kill unionists and/or civilians who speak out against the Uribe government, which is also trying to finally sign this free trade agreement that only gives rights to investors and has nothing to do with trade.
Bill C-23 contains a chapter on investments. As the agreement contains a chapter on investment protection, it will make life easier for Canadians investing in Colombia, especially in mining.
Judging by all the investment protection agreements Canada has signed over the years, the one that would bind Canada and Colombia is ill conceived. All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue the local government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment. Such clauses are especially dangerous in a country where labour and environmental protection laws are uncertain at best. By protecting a Canadian investor against any improvement in living conditions in Colombia, such an agreement could delay social and environmental progress in that country, where the need for progress is great.
Canadian mining companies have to be careful not to become complicit in human rights violations or cause forced displacement of any populations, since regions that are rich in minerals tend to become theatres of violence, paramilitary control and displacements.
This chapter pays mere lip service to corporate social responsibility. Its “best efforts” provisions are purely voluntary and completely unenforceable.
As mentioned earlier, a parliamentary group studied the issue and submitted a report that was completely ignored by the current government. We made some important recommendations in that report.
As members of the Bloc Québécois, we cannot condone such stubbornness and such disdain for parliamentarians. Such behaviour stems from an authoritarian trend that is completely unacceptable and cannot become a precedent. This is not how we would like democratic institutions to operate in the future.