Sample letter to send to your MP

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__________, MP April __, 2009
Riding address OR
House of Commons address
Ottawa, Ontario

 

 

Dear ________;

The March 26, 2009 announcement by the Harper government signaling that it intends to move ahead quickly to implement a free trade deal with Colombia is an appalling move that calls into question why this government would be providing legitimacy to what the UN has called the worst humanitarian disaster in the Western hemisphere.

Ever since former International Trade minister Emerson announced the start of formal free trade talks between Canada and Colombia in June of 2007, the Conservative government has been claiming that conditions in Colombia were improving under the leadership of President Alvaro Uribe. As recently as November 21st, 2008 at a trade deal signing ceremony in Lima, Peru, Prime Minister Harper stated “While there is no denying that Colombians continue to live with serious security challenges, the improvements we have seen over the last several years gives us much reason for optimism.” However, all the evidence suggests otherwise.

There are now some 4 million displaced people in Colombia mainly due to paramilitary violence. Extra judicial killings by the country’s military have been on the rise in the 2007-2008 time period, with the latest “false positives” scandal implicating members of the armed forces in killing civilians and then dressing them up as guerillas in order to receive a reward. In many cases the murderous paramilitary organizations that Colombia has become known for have not disbanded as the Uribe government claims, but have in fact just changed names. Such is the case of the Black Eagles that have continued killing with impunity, and have even threatened foreign legations over the past year, including Canada’s Embassy in Bogotá.

The Canadian government continues to refuse to acknowledge that the Uribe government is itself part of the problem. Today, over 60 members of Congress, roughly 20%, have come under criminal investigation for collaborating with paramilitaries. More than 30 of them are already under arrest. Nearly all of these individuals are members of President Uribe’s inner circle. This circle includes his cousin and ally, Senator Mario Uribe, who last year attempted to evade arrest by unsuccessfully seeking refuge in the Embassy of Costa Rica in Bogotá.

Amnesty International in its end-of-year Report 2008: The state of the world’s human rights debunks statements repeated by the Colombian government, such as paramilitary groups no longer operate, human rights abusers are held to account and the work of social activists and trade unionists is being fully respected. Amnesty International’s study shows that across Colombia: At least 1,400 civilians were killed in 2007, up from 1,300 in 2006, and as many as 305,000 Colombians were displaced in 2007, compared with 220,000 in 2006. In a February 24, 2009 press release Amnesty notes that “the Colombian security forces, paramilitaries and guerilla groups are punishing those who refuse to be part of the conflict across Colombia.”

Why is Canada in such a hurry to implement this free trade deal with Colombia?

Once Canadian parliamentarians return to Ottawa from their Easter break they will be given a very few days to discuss the pending trade deal with Colombia before implementation – but what is the hurry? The Obama administration has put off their own ratification of an agreement with Colombia sighting human rights concerns. Norway has announced that they are halting their participation in trade discussions with Colombia because of continuing human rights abuses in that South American country.

Colombia is not a significant trading partner for Canada. Less than 1% of Canada’s exports go to Colombia. About 80% of existing trade imports from Colombia already gets to Canada duty free. In June, 2008 Parliament’s own Standing Committee on International Trade was unanimous (all party) in recommending to the Conservative government that it conduct a thoroughgoing Human Rights Impact Assessment before proceeding with any trade deal with Colombia. So again the question what is the hurry? Why not take the time to weigh up relations between our two countries to find the best options that will, in particular, benefit the long suffering people of Colombia?

Our government often makes reference to trade and aid relations with other governments that promote similar values to those that Canadians hold, such as democracy, human rights, universal social programs, and putting and end to poverty. However, these values are entirely absent under the current Uribe government in Colombia.

MP’s name, most constituents in name of the MP’s riding were unaware that the minority Conservative government had quietly tabled trade implementation legislation late last month. However, many of those constituents I am sure would agree with me that the Canadian government should take its time and do what is right by declaring a moratorium on a free trade deal with Colombia.

As the federal government’s representative for name of the MP’s riding, I call on your good offices to intervene with you colleagues in Ottawa to stop this free trade deal with Colombia from going forward. Canada needs to carry out a thorough human rights impact assessment as one of the preconditions to any fair trade agreement that our country negotiates in the future.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

(Your name and address)