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OTTAWA Key rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement still violate Canadians rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression despite yesterdays promise of increased transparency at a meeting of NAFTA trade ministers.

The padlock is still firmly in place on the door to Chapter 11 tribunal hearings and thats a violation of the guaranteed rights of all Canadian, says Ray MacCallum, staff lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. Releasing decisions after theyre final and letting provincial governments know whats happening in a tribunal doesnt come close to resolving our clients Charter challenge.

In May, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Democracy Watch launched a legal challenge of Chapter 11s secretive tribunal process, arguing the secrecy violated Canadians rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The groups, represented by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, argue that Canadas agreement to NAFTA is unconstitutional since it includes rules that violate rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

NAFTA tribunals make decisions that have an enormous impact on the lives of all Canadians. Yet Canadians cant set foot in them. These tribunals should be as open and accountable as any court, so that citizens and the media can observe, criticize, comment and take action. Without this scrutiny, the legitimacy of the process is questionable, says Judy Darcy, CUPE National President.

The groups believe Canadians need access to information and the decision-making process in order to hold public institutions accountable particularly on environmental issues, given the poor environmental track record of international trade tribunals.

Canadians are deeply suspicious of Chapter 11s sweeping powers and the secretive process that enforces those rules and with good reason, says Darcy. Whats transparent about yesterdays announcement is that corporations can still attack the power of our governments to govern and provide public services, sheltered under Chapter 11s cloak of secrecy.

The groups will continue to pursue their case, and expect to secure a hearing date in the coming weeks.

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For more information:
Robert Fox, CUPE Director of Communications
(613) 795-4977

CUPE is Canadas largest union, representing a half-million women and men working in health care, emergency services, education, municipalities, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation and airlines. For more information visit cupe.ca.

Democracy Watch is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan citizen advocacy group that aims to reform Canadian government and business institutions to bring them into line with the realities of a modern, working democracy. For more information visit dwatch.ca.

Sierra Legal Defence Fund is a non-profit environmental law organization that provides free legal and scientific services to conservation groups and concerned citizens across Canada. For more information visit sierralegal.org.