Prominent Canadians ask Ignatieff to put human rights before free trade in Colombia

April 30, 2009

Vancouver – Over 50 prominent individuals and organizations have sent Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff a letter urging him to help stop the ratification of the proposed Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until a full and independent human rights impact assessment can be carried out. The letter was sent today, the first day of the Liberal Party convention in Vancouver.

“We the undersigned are deeply concerned that Canada would abandon its values and its support of internationally recognized human rights in order to gain economic advantage for its companies at the expense of millions of displaced, impoverished Colombians,” said the letter, which was signed by Maude Barlow, Stephen Lewis, Ed Broadbent, Claudette Carbonneau, Alex Neve, Paul Moist, Rev. Bill Phipps, Farley Mowat, Claire Mowat, Sarah Polley, Naomi Klein, Bruce Cockburn, Nancy White and others, as well as organizations like the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, Common Frontiers, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees and many more.

The letter notes that the government of Colombia has one of the worst trade union and human rights records in the world, and that according to the United Nations, the humanitarian crisis in Colombia is the worst in the hemisphere.

“Under President Alvaro Uribe’s watch, more than two million people have been displaced from their resource rich territories, while thousands of trade unionists, peasants, indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and activists have been killed by the state and affiliated paramilitary organizations,” the letter reads. “At the same time, the government is mired in corruption, electoral fraud and complicity with drug lords and death squad leaders.”

On March 26, 2009, Canada’s Conservative government tabled legislation that would lead to the ratification of the free trade agreement with Colombia. But last June, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that an “impartial human rights impact assessment be carried out by a competent body… before Canada considers ratifying and implementing an agreement with Colombia.”

To date, the NDP and Bloc Québécois have opposed the ratification of the free trade agreement on the grounds that it does not take into account severe human rights violations in Colombia, and that the labour and environmental side agreements are ineffectual. The letter to Ignatieff notes that while trade can support development and the realization of human rights, neither the political conditions in Colombia nor the terms of the free trade agreement meet the criteria that would allow that to happen.

Some of the signatories of the letter will join a noon rally on May 1 outside the downtown Vancouver Convention Centre where Liberals are meeting this week. The rally was planned by civil society and labour groups, to draw attention to how signing a free trade agreement would tarnish Canada’s reputation and impose even greater levels of hardship on millions of innocent Colombians.