Ottawa's Colombia Problem -- Free Trade Scandal

Canada fails to release human rights report on Colombia following FTA

MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA — The Canadian government's failure to report on Colombian human rights, as promised as part of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA), drew criticism from the country's opposition last Thursday.

The FTA, which went into effect in August 2011, received the backing of Canadian opposition parties when Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to releasing annual reports on how trade was affecting human rights in Colombia. A report analyzing the treaty was released last Wednesday with no mention of human rights issues.

"As the agreement has only been in force for the last four and a half months in 2011, there's not enough available data to do a comprehensive analysis," said Trade Minister Ed Fast in Canada's House of Commons. "That analysis will be released in 2013."

The report's delay drew the ire of many government critics, who felt the current administration was only seeking profit from Colombia while ignoring its human rights violations.

"Canadians want more trade...but we also want...the partners we trade with to respect democratic values," said the opposition's international trade critic Don Davies. "It leaves us to wonder whether the government was afraid to table an honest human rights assessment because it shows the situation in Colombia has not improved."

Opposition party member Scott Brison, who used his close ties to Colombian officials to propose the joint report, assured Canadians that the South American nation was committed to improving its shoddy human rights record, which has seen 17 trade unionists disappear since the agreement was signed.

"I know the Colombian government, with which I continue dialogue, takes this reportage very seriously and actually views it as an opportunity to deepen corporate social responsibility and to increase transparency around human rights and the effect of legitimate trade on actually strengthening human rights," said Brison.

"I hope that the Harper government takes this reportage process as seriously as the Colombians do," he added.

Numerous criticisms against Canadian mining operations have been lodged by Colombian civil rights groups, according to Jennifer Moore, the Latin American coordinator for Canada-based industry monitor MiningWatch.

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