IN THE HOUSE ~ 3rd Reading debate ~ C-2-Canada-Colombia free trade deal

40th Parliament, 3rd Session
Context : Debate on C-2

Our report stage amendments endeavour to start tackling these issues: the lack of credibility; the lack of process around this; the fact that the Liberal Party has completely betrayed its past. I think in the past, it is fair to say, under previous leaders, the Liberal Party did have some legitimate connection to human rights. And I think it is fair to say, when we look at the history of the Liberal Party, there were times when the Liberal Party stood up for human rights issues. That is not the case today under the current leader. I believe profoundly that is one of the reasons why the Liberal Party is in such difficulty in the polls. People in this country want to choose between something more than far right to extreme right points of view.

In the Colombian trade deal, we have a government that, through its secret police, through its military and through its affiliated paramilitary organizations, has been nothing less than brutal with dissidents, the people who stand up on labour rights, the people who stand up on human rights.

The NDP offered approximately 100 amendments to this trade agreement. What we talked about and what we had put forward at committee stage was the very clear desire, from the labour movement, from human rights organizations across this country and in Colombia, to have an independent and impartial human rights assessment prior to any implementation of this trade deal. Given the fact that there are more serious human rights violations around labour activists in Colombia than anywhere else in the world that there are, according to many sources, more forced and violent displacement and theft of land in Colombia than anywhere else in the world, all of this, and most of it done through organizations affiliated with the Colombia government, it is true as well that there are human rights violations by the guerillas operating in Colombia too. But no one is proposing offering a reward for those human rights violations. And certainly in this corner of the House, we stand steadfast in the resistance to offering a reward to the Colombian government for repeatedly bad behaviour.

Now it might have a slick public relations firm. But, quite frankly, the violations speak for themselves, the many reports speak for themselves, and the fact that we had more witnesses asking to come before committee than the trade committee has seen certainly since I have been in Parliament in the last six years. And yet, as I say, there was a closing off and refusal to hear systematically from human rights organizations, from activists involved in human rights work, work with the aboriginal community, work with the African-Colombian community and labour activists.

Our many amendments that were brought forward called for an independent and partial human rights assessment, among many other things, prior to this bill being implemented and also put in place a system so that if the Colombian government did not keep its commitments the trade agreement could be abrogated. All of those amendments were refused, despite the fact that two years ago, when the trade committee actually went down to Colombia, we had a unanimous recommendation that the Conservative government not proceed any further with this trade agreement until an independent and impartial human rights evaluation could be undertaken to determine to what extent this would have a negative impact on human rights.

That was unanimous at the time. The Conservatives stepped back within 24 hours and tried to, under pressure, I imagine, from the PMO, distance themselves from the report. However, it passed unanimously at committee. It is only the change in Liberal leadership that has led to the Liberal Party completely betraying its tradition of standing up on human rights.

So, the fact that we brought forward these amendments, the fact that we were very clear about the importance of rebuilding the bill with a human rights focus, the fact that so many organizations throughout the country said that they wanted to step forward and speak to this issue, I think attests to the fact that Canadians are profoundly concerned about the direction this Parliament is taking.

Context : Debate
Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 3
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the report stage amendments, though to start off I must say that these are the most egregious circumstances imaginable.

As we well know, the trade committee that was supposed to vet and hold, as the Liberal Party promised, full and comprehensive hearings on Bill C-2, did not do that. Liberals and Conservatives combined to shut down the hearings. It is for that reason the NDP is bringing forward these report stage amendments.

The Liberal and Conservative majority on the trade committee refused to hear from the Canadian Labour Congress and some of the largest trade unions in the country such as NUPGE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. As we know, these are labour activists, people simply trying to improve the working conditions of themselves and their co-workers.

There are more trade union activists killed in Colombia than anywhere else on earth. One would expect that the promise by the Liberal Party to have full and comprehensive hearings would have come to pass, but that was absolutely betrayed.

Liberals not only refused to hear from the Canadian Labour Congress and labour activists from some of Canada's largest unions, they also refused to hear from any members of the labour movement from Colombia. These are people who often give their lives trying to improve working conditions in Colombia because of the immense brutality of the paramilitary organizations that are affiliated with the Colombia government. They refused to hear from any of the non-government activists affiliated with the labour movement.

Labour activists in Colombia who often do their work as volunteers with threats to their lives and those of their families simply wanted to go before the trade committee and give their points of view on 90% of the remaining labour movement in Colombia, not the government-affiliated labour movement but trade union activists who comprise 90% of the labour movement there, and Liberals and Conservatives said no to hearing from those labour activists. They said no to hearing from Afro-Colombians, individuals suffering the brunt of the brutal paramilitary government-linked paramilitary groups that, there is no other way to put it, brutally slaughter hundreds of activists every year.

Rather than the trade committee hearing from African Colombians, aboriginal Colombians, the free labour movement in Colombia, not the government-sponsored part of the labour movement, rather than hearing from Canada's largest unions and labour activists from the Canadian Labour Congress, it closed out debate on Bill C-2. Through a pretty thuggish process, it simply shut out all of those groups and many civil society organizations and individuals, all of whom had written to members of the trade committee to appear before the committee. It shut them all out. Then, in the space of just a few minutes per clause, it moved to rubber stamp this trade bill.

As we know, there is the so-called Liberal amendment that requires nothing more or less than the Colombian government to report on itself annually. I guess one of the reasons why the Liberals moved closure on this issue before committee was because the witnesses who came forward were very clear about the fact that this amendment, which forces the Colombian government to report on itself, is simply not credible given its lies and deception.

What the committee heard from the CCIC, no less, was that there could be a historic precedent to put in place some independent and impartial human rights monitoring and evaluation both prior to and during this process. Quoting from the organization's testimony before the committee, it stated, “The damage from a non-credible process is high.”

Therefore, there have been no full and comprehensive hearings and a non-credible process has been added in, allowing the Colombian government to report on itself. Liberals and Conservatives rammed this bill through without the due and appropriate consideration, without even hearing from the folks that the trade committee is bound to hear from. It is absolutely outrageous.

Context : Debate
I have had the privilege of speaking at a number of public events throughout this country. I have been speaking at public events in Ontario, the Maritimes, Quebec and western Canada about this issue and Canadians are very concerned about it.

To close, I will give one example in the riding of Davenport where 200 people came out to speak to the issue of concerns about the Liberal Party's stand on human rights and this pushing forward of the Colombian trade deal. What people in Davenport and so many other ridings across the country want to see is that the bill receive that sober second thought these report stage amendments are designed--

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I like the member as an individual, but I profoundly disagree with him on this question. Two years ago we had hearings and it was the unanimous committee recommendation not to proceed any further with implementing the Canada-Colombia trade deal. What the government did just a few weeks later is gave the back of its hand to members of Parliament from all four parties who had said at that time that we should not proceed and it moved to sign a trade agreement with Colombia.

Since that time we had a first series of hearings. There were people heard from all sides and all members of Parliament realized this was the wrong road to take; all members of Parliament, all four parties. At the time, the Liberals had a very progressive leader and that consensus was very clear. So now we fast forward to the committee hearings over the last few months, particularly last fall, we heard without exception before the bill had even been debated and passed by the House, we heard from pro-government, witnesses from only one side. Only one side was heard and it is very clear that when the labour movement both in Colombia and Canada wants to come forward, and civil society activists want to come forward, the promise the Liberal Party made for full and comprehensive hearings should have been kept. It was not.

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, this is a very important question because over the last few weeks we have seen even more revelations of the bad behaviour of the Colombian government. I talked about the human rights violations, the labour rights violations, the forced and violent displacement from land. Those are all a matter of public record and there is no doubt that had those witnesses from the free Colombian labour movement, not the government-sponsored part of that little 10% part, been allowed to come before the committee, then those voices would have been heard.

However, recently we have had even more revelations that the involvement of the secret police, the DAS in Colombia, in the systematic killings of labour activists. The DAS passed on that information to paramilitary organizations, it went around the world and all members of Parliament have to take that into consideration. The revelations just a few days ago just before closure was brought in, that President Uribe's brother was actively involved in the paramilitary killings that were taking place. Those allegations came forward and now we again have another reason for members of Parliament of all parties to say whoa, there is a fundamental problem here. We are seeing members of the president's family involved in human rights abuses. Those allegations need to be investigated and the secret police involvement, very clearly we should not be rewarding bad behaviour. That is the repudiation of a fundamental Canadian value.

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned a fairly laughable pretension, that somehow the Colombian elections that were fraught with a whole variety of issues raised by election observers was somehow only focused on an agreement with Canada, that every single Colombian was just voting on that basis despite paramilitary involvement.

We have seen a meltdown in the Mexican rural economy as a result of the final corn tariffs being taken off as a result of NAFTA. NAFTA was the same kind of spin, that somehow it was going to help rural Mexicans. Rather than helping or strengthening the Mexican economy in rural areas, the NAFTA agreement has done exactly the opposite. It has led to the colombianization of rural Mexico and an explosion of the drug trade.

I would like my colleague to comment on that because we are hearing the same old bromides that this agreement would help Colombians when there has been absolutely no due diligence, no impartial human rights assessment so neither the Conservatives or Liberals who are cheerleading this agreement can say that.

I have a final question around trade strategy. We have signed bilateral agreements and our trade has actually gone down in places like Costa Rica, Israel and Chile. We sign these bilaterals and our exports to those markets go down. What is wrong with the government's trade strategy?

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am appalled at the ignorance of the members who are not aware that there have been systematic massacres of members of not only the Awa nation in Colombia, but other aboriginal nations. Indeed, the government, the paramilitary and the military forces have been involved. It is a matter of public record.

I will turn to other issues, because it is obvious that there is not a very high level of understanding of the human rights situation in Colombia. How could there be? Liberals and Conservatives shut off debate on Bill C-2. They refused to hear from human rights organizations in Colombia who asked to come forward. They refused to hear from the Canadian Labour Congress, who asked to come forward. They refused to hear from some of the largest labour activist unions in Canada, who asked to come forward.

They refused to hear from the free and democratic labour movement, which is over 90% of the labour movement in Colombia. The Liberals and Conservatives said they did not want to hear from these organizations. If they had heard from those organizations rather than cutting off debate, their level of ignorance would have been improved.

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the member referenced the Colombian elections. He should be aware, even though the committee did not have the full and comprehensive hearings into this bill that the Liberal Party had promised, that impartial election observers had flagged widespread fear among the Colombian population around the elections, a number of factors that impede free and fair elections: vote buying and selling; misuse of identity documents; illegal possession of identity documents; coercion and intimidation of voters; fraud committed by polling officers--I can go on and on. However, to say, on the one hand, that these elections did not have problems would be inappropriate and, on the other hand, to say that somehow, as we have had a couple of interventions, that somehow Colombian voters, the few who did make it to the polls around this issue, were only voting on the Canada trade deal, that was the only thing that people were voting on, is absolutely bizarre. It is absurd. It is kooky. B if that is all they got, it shows the paucity of the arguments from the other side.

However, I am not going to go into the human rights issues. I am just going to go into the issue of the failure of this government on trade issues. Every single bilateral that we have signed, we have actually seen a reduction in exports to those markets after signature, and that has been systematic, in some cases taking years to get back to the point of departure.

My question for the hon. member is, why does he think the Conservative government has failed on this? Why do our exports consistently go down when we sign these bilateral trade agreements?

Context : Questions and Comments
M. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NPD): Monsieur le Président, j'ai beaucoup apprécié l'intervention du député de Sherbrooke. Il a une grande connaissance de toutes ces questions de traités de libre-échange avec la Colombie et il a fait un bon travail en tant que membre du Comité permanent du commerce international.

Maintenant, comme le député le sait bien, on est allés en Colombie, on est revenus et tous les députés, des quatre partis, ont dit ensemble qu'il ne fallait pas procéder à un traité de libre-échange avec la Colombie étant donné la situation des droits humains qui existe en Colombie. Cela c'était il y a deux ans. Ensuite, le gouvernement conservateur a décidé de simplement bafouer toute l'information que le comité avait apporté ici. Maintenant on est dans une situation où les libéraux et les conservateurs refusent même d'entendre des témoins sur ces questions, comme le mouvement syndical canadien, le mouvement syndical libre colombien, des Afro-Colombiens, des Autochtones et tous les autres groupes de la société civile qui ont demandé au Comité permanent du commerce international, justement, d'entendre leurs témoignages.

Alors je voudrais avoir les commentaires du député de Sherbrooke à ce sujet. Qu'est-ce qui a fait la différence entre la situation, il y a deux ans, alors que le Parti libéral reconnaissait la situation des droits humains, et aujourd'hui, alors qu'il ne reconnaît plus les violations des droits humains? Est-ce que c'est à cause du changement du chef du Parti libéral?

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I admire the member for standing up in the House and saying what he did say.

This is extremely important. As he referenced there are a whole range of questions that need to be answered.

I have a comment, before I ask a question of the member for Mississauga South. The comment is very clear because this has to be on the record. Members of Parliament are citing the recent elections. They have to cite the fact that most Colombians could not vote or did not feel comfortable voting. Most Colombians could not vote or did not feel comfortable voting in those elections. That is a fact that any Conservative member, who tries to reference the elections has to take into consideration. Most Colombians were not able to vote in that election.

My question for the member for Mississauga South is very simple. Is his recommendation that the committee should be hearing from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Colombian free and democratic labour movement, aboriginal people and African Colombians?

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the hon. member's comments, but I do appreciate them.
My colleague knows that two years ago the trade committee had hearings in Colombia where we heard from the labour movement. The committee was unanimous in its recommendation that the government not proceed with trade negotiations with the government of Colombia until an independent human rights assessment was done on the impact of the agreement on human rights in Colombia given the egregious and constant and ongoing human rights violations taking place there.

The member well knows that we are not talking about 2008. From January 1 to April 30 of this year, 30 trade unionists have been massacred. Thirty of them died standing up for better health and safety conditions in their workplace, for better working conditions for Colombian workers. We are not talking about five or six years ago. We are talking about what happened a few weeks ago.

Given that the recommendation was unanimous and that those people who talked to committee two years ago wanted to come back on Bill C-2, my simple question is this: Why do the Conservatives refuse to hear from the free and independent labour movement in Colombia and the labour movement in Canada as well as the many activists who wanted to come before--

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Madam Speaker, this is an important issue. I know that the member for Welland is one of the strongest advocates that we in the House not forget families like the French family, who have suffered so much in the past. I certainly think that all members of the House are thinking of the French family today and other families who are impacted by the current situation around pardons.

He has been very eloquent in spelling out the problem here. The NDP has urged the government to put forward changes to the Criminal Records Act that could be fast-tracked through the House of Commons. They would not in any way hold up a decisive measure that would avoid the kind of situation we all want to prevent here in the House of Commons without bringing forward the much broader legislation that has a contrary impact on a number of other people's lives.

The member for Welland is saying very clearly that there is a balance that needs to be maintained. There is also an urgency for action and that is why the NDP has put forward that request to the government to streamline the Criminal Records Act changes, do that in the first stage and ensure that the crimes that shock the conscience of Canadians are not included under pardons. That would head off any possibility of Ms. Homolka getting a pardon.

We put forward this legislation in an effort to fast-track that component of the bill. As yet, the government seems to be resistant to that and prefers a much more difficult, convoluted and, in some parts, poorly drafted bill that does not get the job done on the one hand and will have to be fixed in committee on the other.

The member for Welland has been very articulate on this issue. He is a very strong advocate for the people of his riding and his community who suffered during that period. Why does he think the Conservatives do not seem to be willing to do the right thing in this place right now and streamline the Criminal Records Act changes in a specific way that would resolve that short-term issue and then work with all parties so that we can get the broader-based reform that we all want to see? Why have they not done that?