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Canada: Summit Called 'Sham,' 'Wishy Washy'

by Melanie SealGlobe and Mail
April 23rd, 2001

Reaction to the summit's final declaration ranged from a "deplorable sham" to "a good start, but there's still a lot more work to be done."

These were the immediate reactions to the 43-page document from Matthew Coon Come, national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, and Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians.

Ms. Barlow said the democratic clause in the Free Trade Area of the Americas is a sham. She says the deal, if implemented, would undermine Canada's health and environmental laws, and would open up Canadian services to U.S. corporations.

Under the clause, only democratic countries could can be a part in the free-trade zone.

"I think that's all really nice language for a press release," Ms. Barlow said in a phone interview. "But as far as I see, all the plans of action are voluntary."

Ms. Barlow said the meeting wasn't a democratic process, and attacked the Ottawa for not releasing the negotiating text months ago.

"Given the profound impact the FTAA will have on democracies throughout the hemisphere, governments should allow the citizens of every country to vote directly on the proposed deal through referenda — an idea [Prime Minister] Jean Chrétien has dismissed out of hand," Ms. Barlow said.

"We think this meeting was an attempt to put a good face on a bad agenda," Ms. Barlow said. "But I think it was our message was the message that got out ahead of time."

Ms. Barlow disagreed with Mr. Chrétien's comments that while some protesters took part in the Peoples' Summit, others follow such meetings.

"The people in the Peoples' Summit were on the street," said Ms. Barlow. "I was on the street. I don't agree with this image of a good protester/bad protester. It's just an attempt to divide us."

Mr. Coon Come, who addressed the summit in a panel on Saturday, says the declaration's section on indigenous people is a good start, but that there's "still a lot of work to be done. We've got our work cut out for us."

Mr. Coon Come was glad that the needs of indigenous people were addressed, but said that the FTAA plan lacked specifics. "It's a bit of window-dressing, it's a bit wishy washy," he said in a phone interview. "Unfortunately, the plan doesn't have any dates when it talks about indigenous people."

"On the one hand, at least the plan has a reference to indigenous peoples, but the plan is not clear. There's no indication as to how to deal with trade and indigenous rights. That's the whole question: What's the next process?"

"Nowhere is it explicit that when you adopt the FTAA, fundamental rights are inseparable from trade."

Mr. Coon Come said there were many parts of the page-and-a-half section dedicated to indigenous peoples that were vague. For example, one of the plans was to:

Develop strategies, measures, and mechanisms aimed at ensuring the effective participation of indigenous peoples in the design, implementation and evaluation of comprehensive health plans, policies, systems and programs that recognize the value of developing holistic communities that take into consideration cultural, economic and social realities and circumstances.

Mr. Coon Come said he had no idea what those "measures" to promote better health care were. He pointed out that the plan's term "indigenous peoples" differed from international standards. Under the FTAA plan it is up to the individual country to define its aboriginals.

He also took issue with the limited time given to address the leaders. "It was difficult to give a four-minute presentation of the 500 years of cultural development of the hemisphere," he said.

Mr. Coon Come added he felt there was always room for improvements in multi-national deals like the FTAA. "At least this is a step, at least there is a reference to us," he said, travelling back to Ottawa. If there wasn't he said, "it would have been a disaster."

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