Canadians concerned about Human Rights not Protectionism

I called Prime Minister Harper’s office this afternoon (Friday, Aug. 12) to complain about statements he has made in Colombia as reported on CBCTV and other news media as to why some Canadians opposed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Canada and Colombia over the past several years.

Mr. Harper says that these Canadians who have opposed the FTA are just ‘protectionists’. I know that this is a complete falsehood and I asked on the phone that Mr. Harper show some respect to Canadians and retract this statement. I was advised to write an email with my message to Mr. Harper which this is.

And then I heard the CBC radio news this evening and heard Mr. Harper once again give the same false message during his speech in Honduras regarding possible bilateral trade between Canada and Honduras. He said that Canadian opponents to a FTA with Honduras are ‘protectionists’.

The reason I know Mr. Harper is making false statements on this issue is because I was one of the people who wrote letters to the government and members of parliament over the years the FTA was being debated in parliament. I also signed letters and petitions for Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups opposing a FTA until such time as the Colombian government would allow an independent international third party to assess the human rights situation in Colombia. I also attended an ‘Americas Policy Group Roundtable’ in Ottawa in March, 2009 at which there were some statements made about the FTA, but not one word about protectionism. The Americas Policy Group of Ottawa has since lost its CIDA funding. I wonder why?

During the fall of 2009 I accompanied a visiting Colombian human rights lawyer – a young woman –  to a meeting with my M.P. Maria Minna at the time. The lawyer was meeting with Canadian parliamentarians to ask that they oppose a FTA with Colombia until the human rights record there was improved and assessed by an international body. During the meeting she expressed fears for hers and her baby daughter’s welfare back home in Colombia. I heard this with my own ears!

In the end the Canadian parliament never did require the third party assessment of Colombia’s human rights record.  The Conservative minority government with support of other members went ahead and passed the FTA with Colombia with no human rights guarantees.

And now Mr. Harper is spreading falsehoods about the reasons that Canadians and many parliamentarians opposed this FTA with Colombia. And it looks like there will be an FTA with Honduras, which is now under a right wing regime supported by the U.S. and Canada, where there have been strikes by teachers and other workers, with many having been shot and killed by the military.

Canada should not be entering into a FTA with any country that cannot show an international body that it respects the human rights of its citizens. The only beneficiaries of these FTA deals are Canadian businesses like mining companies who will have no controls as to how they operate in Colombia or Honduras, and the right wing governments that rule these countries. Ordinary people in Colombia and Honduras will continue to suffer. I have visited both of these countries.

I want a public retraction from Prime Minister Harper and I want him to say that the reason so many Canadians oppose FTA’s with countries like these has to do with our concerns for human rights, not protectionism.

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About Murray Lumley

Board member of Conscience Canada; Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist; retired teacher; grandfather
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