Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join in the debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. At the outset, this debate has exposed a serious flaw in the government's approach to international trade.
I commend my NDP colleague from Burnaby in leading the opposition to the bill. I also thank the members of the Bloc Québécois for their continued support. I was very moved this morning when I heard the member from Laval speak eloquently and passionately about the situation in Colombia. She gave names and voices to those who have been murdered by a very oppressive regime. Through its support directly or indirectly of the paramilitary, that regime has caused the murder of thousands of civilians, many of them trade union activists. According to the International Labour Organization, over the last 10 years, 60% of all trade unionists murdered in the world were murdered in Colombia.
It is important to note that President Uribe has been accused by international human rights organizations of corruption, electoral fraud, complicity in extrajudicial killings by the army, of links to paramilitary and right-wing death squads, using his own security forces to spy on the supreme court of Colombia, opposition politicians, government politicians and journalists. Many government members, including ministers and members of his family, have been forced to resign or have been arrested.
The regime has been recognized as a pariah by many countries in the world in terms of how it deals with its people and its failure to act in the interests of its citizens. Accordingly Canada, by entering into this agreement, is in fact acting to defend the approach of Mr. Uribe and his regime to government in Colombia.
We have heard it said by others, including the Liberal member for Kings—Hants, that this is a good deal because it would not only put an end to any possibilities of protectionism, but it would also lead to human rights advances. That statement cannot be supported. There is absolutely no precedent for a free trade agreement leading to changes and improvements in human rights. We need an agreement that ensures significant action is taken to reverse what is happening in Colombia and that the regime no longer supports the kind of activities going on there.
The NDP is not opposed to trade or to a regime which involves fair trade. We would support an agreement that fully respects human rights as a precondition for a trade deal. The Canada-Colombia agreement is fundamentally flawed for that reason and it does little more than pay lip service to the serious damage it could do to human rights in Colombia by legitimizing the dangerous regime that is implicated in violence and the murder of its citizens.
It has been suggested that once the Uribe government gets this free trade gift, the incentive to improve human rights will go out the window. There is no fundamental protection for human rights contained in this agreement. In fact, the violation of the side deal on labour rights can only result in a contribution being made of $15 million to an international fund. That is clearly not a significant response to the desperate situation taking place in Colombia.
In addition to these serious and significant human rights violations, nearly 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered since 1986. This year alone, some 34 identified trade unionists have been murdered for their activities.
Colombia has nearly four million internally displaced persons, 60% of whom come from regions where there is mineral, agricultural or other economic activities. Private companies and their government and parliamentary supporters are forcing people from their homes. This economic development is being supported by the Colombian government and its trading partners. If Canada intends to act as a supporter of that regime, then we intend to do everything we can to stop it and we hope members of Parliament, who have listened to the debate, listened to their constituents, who have written them on this matter, listened to the Canadian Labour Congress and others, will change their mind and their approach toward this legislation.
I want to mention some of the names, as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois did earlier, of individuals who have been killed in Colombia in the last few months: a teacher union activist of Arauca, Rodriguez Garavito, was murdered on June 9; Carbonell Pena Eduar, union of teachers and professors, was kidnapped from his workplace and murdered; a teacher with the association of teachers of Cordoba, Ramiro Israel Montes Palencia, was stopped on the road by two unidentified men and shot; and Cortes Lopez Zorayda, an activist in the teachers union, was murdered by two gunmen on a motorcycle on November 13 last week.
This violence against trade unionists and activists has continued on an ongoing basis, week after week, month after month, for many years, yet the Conservative government proposes to enter into a free trade agreement with the Colombia government and its regime. Our relationship with Colombia in the area of trade is not even significant. It is only our fifth largest trading partner in all of Latin America.
Why does the government see fit to enter into this relationship with Colombia, effectively supporting, ratifying and encouraging its activity toward its citizens? This is not the kind of Canada we want to see on the international stage. We want to see a Canada that vigorously promotes human rights. We do not want to see a Canada that helps countries that act this way toward their citizens. We do not want to see a Canada that fails to take any significant action to distance itself from this type of activity, which in fact, is being held by many international groups as being responsible for this.
It is a great shock to see the Conservative and Liberal Parties of Canada give support to the legislation, to the trade agreement and to the Colombian government, which acts so negatively against its citizens and tolerates and promotes directly and indirectly the kind of activities that we have talked and heard about in this debate.
This is a significant and important debate. We have submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade on this arrangement from the Canadian Labour Congress, which has significant objections to the agreement. In its submission it states:
The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was not written to protect labour and human rights. It is more than a “trade” agreement. It is a trade and investment agreement underpinned by tacit Canadian support for a security agenda that defends the extractive industries, the drug cartels, and the internal security forces of Colombia.
That is a fairly strong and powerful statement coming from the representatives of all organized workers in Canada. It is not the right thing to do for Canada. It is not the right thing to do for Colombia. It is not the right thing to do for the global economy, which was what the Prime Minister unfortunately said.
There is a significant problem with this. The Government of Canada is tacitly supporting the government of Colombia. Its people live in fear because of the operations of paramilitaries and private security firms and the mafia-style gangland killings aimed at the people who are trying to change things and better their own lot and that of their fellow citizens. Trade union activists are the ones who do that.
That government, in defeating human rights activists and trade union activists, refer to them as terrorists. This is the latest word used to blame somebody. The latest way to make it fair game for people to murder them, kill them, kidnap them and attack them is to pass a label on them when they are in fact trying to improve the lot of their fellow workers, citizens and the country in general.
I would be happy to entertain some questions and comments, but this agreement should be opposed and we certainly oppose it.
Subtopic: Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act