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November 29, 2007

Stop the Canada-Colombia trade talks – NOW!


On November 29th at mid-day hundreds of chanting trade unionists and other concerned Canadians marched in downtown Toronto to denounce the secretive free trade negotiations between Canada and Colombia. This rally was sponsored by the Ontario Federation of Labour and it called on the Prime Minister to suspend the Colombia trade talks NOW, to provide for a full debate NOW, and to put human rights first while adopting a new approach to trade that will make peoples lives better – NOW!

Marie Clarke Walker (pictures at left), Executive Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), spoke to the marchers in front of the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue. Ms. Walker told the crowd that Colombia is the country where more trade unionists are killed than in the rest of the world combined, and that during the term of Colombia’s current President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, 560 union officers and members have been brutally and systematically murdered. Virtually all these crimes remain unsolved.

Increasing numbers of President Uribe’s close political allies, including his chief of security, family members, and 49 of Uribe’s own political party members in Congress have either been jailed or are under investigation for ties to the paramilitary death squads. The rally also heard that Colombian soldiers stand accused of carrying out 955 reported cases of summary executions mainly against peasants in the rural areas. Colombian journalists who have been covering this scandal have received death threats, and several have had to go into exile.

Just two days before this Toronto march, Conservative members of the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) defeated an NDP motion that called for an immediate halt to the Canada-Colombia negotiations, and for a human rights impact assessment to be carried out. In defeating the motion the Conservatives were led by MP Brian Pallister who claimed that there is no proof that the government of Colombia is involved in human rights abuses.

The Harper government has been fast-tracking trade negotiations with the Colombian government in spite of the fact that the U.S. Congress, citing human rights concerns, has refused to ratify a similar trade initiative put forward by the Bush administration. Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, trade unionists and many others Colombians struggling to rebuild their communities are afraid that a Canadian deal could be used by the U.S. Republicans in 2008 as a precedent to push for ratification of the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, which similarly ignores human rights issues.

Under a canopy of colourful flags flapping in a brisk November wind, marchers stood united in calling on the Canadian government to stop bargaining a trade deal with a government that is out of step with such basic Canadian values as human rights, democracy, freedom and the rule of law.


To see more photos from the rally, visit our Gallery


Text and Photos : Rick Arnold

Organization: Common Frontiers-Canada*

Common Frontiers is a twenty year old multi-sectoral coalition opposed to 'free trade' in the Americas. CF favours alternative trade arrangements in our hemisphere that put social policy considerations ahead of commercial gain.


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