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Deal tabled as assassinations and displacement continue

The Conservatives tabled the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Parliament today, reviving a deal many thought better left for dead.

Renewed interest in the deal comes weeks after an Amnesty International report found Indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk of being exterminated by state forces, right wing paramilitary groups and guerrilla organizations.

But Canadian officials are ignoring Amnesty’s report, focusing instead on economic aspects of the deal.

“International trade is critical to our economic recovery," said Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan in a press release. “As we move beyond stimulus spending and diversify opportunities for Canadian business abroad, this free trade agreement will help Canadians prosper," he said.

Van Loan’s comments come though there is little data supporting the notion that economic benefits will flow to Canadians as the result of an FTA with Colombia.

The Canada-Colombia deal will open market access for certain Canadian commodities, flooding the Colombian market with Canadian wheat, barley and other grains. The key provisions of the deal relate to the security of Canadian investments in the mining and oil and gas sector.

The agreement, which was being fast-tracked in parliament as Bill C-23, was sidelined when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament. Critics of the Canada-Colombia FTA are urging Micheal Ignatieff, the leader of the official opposition, to vote against the deal, now dubbed C-2, in parliament.

“Ignatieff has only one choice if he truly cares about human rights and democracy, and that’s to keep the Colombia free trade agreement off the parliamentary agenda until a human rights impact assessment can be carried out," said Stuart Trew, the trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

Unfortunatly, the Liberals have wavered in their opposition to the deal, straying from an election promise by former leader Stépane Dion that they wouldn’t sign off on the deal until the human rights situation in Colombia improved.

“Far from creating a legitimate economy, as Liberal MPs have been suggesting in defence of the Colombia free trade agreement, the deal before Parliament would increase the chances that Canadian companies invested in agriculture, mining and resource extraction in sensitive areas will be doing business with murderers, drug traffickers and arms smugglers,” said Trew in a press release.

News of the tabling of the agreement comes together with the newest gruesome figures relating to murders of union members last year. Colombia’s National Labour School reports that 45 unionists were killed in 2009.

"In the face of these serious, ongoing abuses it is unacceptable that Ottawa would even be talking to the Colombian government, let alone fast-tracking an agreement," said Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in a press release.

In February, Amnesty spokesperson Kathy Price said the situation of Indigenous peoples in Colombia is nothing short of an emergency. At least 114 Indigenous people were murdered last year, while thousands more were subject to threats, abuse, torture and displacement.

by Dawn Paley for the Dominion

Dawn Paley