MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Debate on the Proposed Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
May 25th, 2009 - 4:00am
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it does not make it right. That does not justify her course of action or the course of this House of Commons that just because evil is propagated against others, that should justify us entering into an agreement where clearly there are significant problems with human rights activity and there is an organized, orchestrated campaign to intimidate those of the citizenry population who want to better their society and have done so in an open and accountable way. It has led to much suffering, and having had a chance to question some of the Colombian delegation at committee, I have not been satisfied with their response.
I brought up four specific cases of civil liberty union organizers. They were not, for example, from the mines, where we would expect there to be some activism, or the farming community, where there have been issues with the drug cartels. I brought up cases of the school teacher's union, the nursing association and universities, where even in Bogota and other places like that where there is that type of structure, those citizens who had become union organizers to defend the interests of their neighbours, their friends and their families were killed.
The response I got from the Colombian embassy was rather unique. In all those cases, the vast majority of which have never been brought to trial in Colombia, which they admitted, they claimed that they were all crimes of passion. What they meant by crimes of passion was that those individuals were in relationships that somehow did not work out, and the spouses, partners or people in their lives had killed them because of that dispute.
I find that response really a condemnation of justice, of a parliamentary committee trying to get to the bare bones of things and investigate things. It is a very dismissive approach, that those cases would not be respected. I cannot believe that that was the response I got.
However we need to step back from some of this, from our side here in Canada, and hear from some of the individuals from Colombia. I have an interesting quote from an individual.
“If Canada were to assess the real impact of trade deals on the lives of Colombians, I believe it would change its mind on the advisability of continuing negotiation”, says Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona of the Methodist Church of Colombia.
He goes on to say, because the government is using it to justify its approach and to gain credibility in the international community:
“So naturally the government is desperate for a deal with Canada. It's like a stamp of approval”, says the bishop, “but we say stop the killing of innocent Colombians, disarm the paramilitaries and protect human rights before any deals are made”.
Given the massive investment by the United States government and of Canada through CIDA in other types of trade which are actually occurring, surely the situation has not gotten to the point where we should just give them a free ride. It is important to note that we are trading with Colombia. We have been trading with Colombia during a time of record assassinations of citizens and people.
What we are saying is this free trade deal right now is wrong and we need to have that independent analysis that the committee has so requested. That is the reasonable approach here, to ask whether they have been able to bridge the gap successfully to allow these issues to be part of an overall structure and plan, not side deals. Side deals on the environment and on human rights abuses are just that. They show the real fact, which is they do not matter because if they really mattered, they would be in the deal to begin with. They would be conditions to which we could actually hold the government accountable, and we could ensure that those people with whom we are supposed to be growing a relationship are going to get the natural defence and the rule of law applied to them and their families. That is what we are talking about.
The Methodist bishop from Colombia is quite right in pointing out that the interests of this deal are really thrust upon an elite group of citizens and the corporate agenda of large corporations that would benefit from it.
The very least we can do in this respect is to pursue accountability through our actions, and once again, the independent assessment report that we are calling for right now, and which we have been calling for for over a year.
I do not want to be too hard on my Liberal friends, but the Conservatives continue to rub their noses into the ground on this. They have totally dismissed this approach as a reasonable way to come to a resolution here in the House on a Colombia free trade deal. They cannot even provide that element to the Liberal Party yet the Liberals will support them without having that report completed.
This shows the contempt, I believe, that the Conservatives have for the issue of human rights, which is a priority for Canadians. It is also important for our trading relationship. It is not a hard thing for the government to deliver. The assessment has been validated by a number of organizations, including Amnesty International.
I want to point out the fact that there is some motivation and we saw that today in a press clipping on the Hill entitled “Colombia may accept beef”. The Minister of Agriculture is pushing hard for Colombia to open its markets. In 2003 Colombia shut its beef market down because of mad cow disease thereby shutting down Canadian access. The government sees this agreement as a portal to getting beef products back into that country. Interestingly enough, that would not happen until the summer so Colombia is clearly watching whether or not this deal happens. Maybe the deal is a sell-off for this Parliament.
There is no doubt that we all want trade. There is nothing wrong with following through on the will of Parliament, through committee, to have that independent assessment.
The minister talked about a science-based approach. If that was the case, then the government would have opened the market a long time ago because nothing has changed since 2003 with regard to the science around this issue.
I want to touch on how things really matter in the House of Commons and in committee. Amnesty International pointed out this serious issue in a letter to the Prime Minister. I want to read from that letter because it tells us how real this issue is and how we can take either positive action or negative action.
People came from Colombia to appear before committee. They put their lives at stake by coming forward, but they want to make changes for themselves, their families, and their communities.
I am going to quote from Amnesty International's letter to the Prime Minister:
--Ten years ago, Canadian MPs heard compelling testimony about the devastating impact of a hydroelectric project that received US$18.2 million of Canadian financing assistance from the Export Development Corporation, in support of work on the project by a Canadian corporation. Embera Katio Indigenous leader Kimy Pernia Domico told a Canadian parliamentary hearing that members of his community, whose access to food and to a healthy environment was negatively impacted by construction of the dam, had never been consulted about the project in violation of their rights under the Colombian constitution. Kimy was subsequently disappeared by army-backed paramilitaries. His people continue to live in fear. Other communities do too. Last month, a delegation of human rights defenders from Colombia met with you and testified about the fear generated by the arrival of scores of soldiers in an area of Indigenous opposition to a foreign mining project.
Minister, Canada owes it to the memory of Kimy Pernia Domico, to his family, his community and to all Colombians to ensure that this deal will not exacerbate the already deeply troubling human rights situation in Colombia.--
That letter was dated March 27, 2009. I am sorry, it was not sent to the Prime Minister but to the Minister of International Trade.
It is important to note that people like Kimy came forward at committee. They were testifying about the issue and some have paid the price for that testimony.
Once again, all we are asking for is an independent assessment on the field.
The interesting thing about this case is it is not just the single one-off that we have had. It is an historic pattern that has evolved out of that country, including the current President Uribe who has actually been part of this problem in many respects, as noted by many in the international community.
I want to reference another case from back in 2007. Jairo Giraldo, of the national fruit-workers union, and Leonidas Silva Castro, of the teachers union, were murdered in separate incidents. In the first one, with regard to Jairo, he was part of an organized trade union that had to deal with the fact of land property conflict with that of the drug trade. We do not know about Leonidas and his situation, but we do know that he was murdered at his home. He was part of the teachers union.
That is important to note, because once again it is not just about those who are having conflicts with the drug industry and the drug cartel. There is very good compelling evidence that connects the Government of Colombia, in the past and also in the present, with some of the cartel and the problems that they have had dealing with cocaine and other types of commodities that they have used their land to sell back into North America.
I find it interesting that we would be so soft on those individuals yet at the same time, in our country, the jargon is out there that we are tough on crime and on individuals. But it is okay if it is in somebody else's backyard.
With regard to the teachers union, and this is what is disturbing, it is very unusual to have union leaders of civil society organizations that end up being killed because they are representing the workers of those organizations. Once again, nurses associations and others have been part of that.
Another point I want to make is that there has been an attempt and actual groups and organizations, not only just from this Parliament of Canada but also the United States Congress, that have travelled down to Colombia, and have actually challenged the Colombian government about these issues. Despite that we still have murders even to this day. Even this last year was a bad year.
The pressure has been mounting. Since February 2008, there is a Routers article, U.S.W. Delegation visits Colombia to meet union and political leaders. What they did was they went down to meet about the 40 Colombian trade unionists who were murdered last year, more than all the union activists killed in all of the countries of the world combined.
It is incredible, in looking at the small geography of Colombia and looking at the other nations of the world where there have been active attacks on trade unionists, that there would be that concentration in that small geography. The mere fact that they would actually then be allowed to have a privileged trade agreement, we should really be talking about that. Let us define this. That is what we were talking about today.
We are not talking about ending all trade to Colombia. We are not talking about reducing trade to Colombia. We are not talking about the fact that Canada is trying to increase its trade to Colombia. We are talking about a privileged state of trade that Canada would want to enter into with the Colombian government that has a history of a number of issues of corruption, a number of issues tied to cartels and a number of issues related to killings where they have not gone after those individuals to any significant success rate.
We have not even put any type of markers in this trade deal to be able to deal with that. In fact the issues that have been raised consistently are that of the environment and labour. It is critical to note the environment is also a connection to the land conflict uses that could actually destroy communities and the people who have lived there for generations. They are the side agreements.
We are talking about entering into a privileged trade relationship, and we would do so with a country that has type of record and continues to have that. In fact the article goes on to talk about
In the meantime death threats against trade unionists in Colombia persist with more than 200 occurring last year, and one union with which the USW works closely in Colombia has received numerous death threats against its leadership last year from the extremely violent Black Eagles of the USC paramilitaries.
It is not even just the fact that we have individuals who are getting slaughtered for representing their family members, friends and community members, we also have another series of intimidations. Let us be clear about this, when 40 people, trade unionists, at that point, basically half the year, in Colombia killed, we can imagine the level of severity and concern the 200 death threats that were recorded would actually have.
These are not small things.