Whats your motive in launching this challenge?
We want to ensure trade deals respect democracy and our rights and freedoms as Canadians. Decisions behind closed doors clearly offend these rights and we want the courts to strike down those parts of NAFTA that contravene the Charter.
Its clear that Canadians are very concerned about the impact of international trade agreements on democracy. We cant hold our government to account if we dont know whats going on behind closed doors.
Why is CUPE concerned about freedom of the press?
Were all concerned about freedom of the press, or we should be. Important decisions that affect our environment, our public services and the future of our country are being made in kangaroo courts behind closed doors. We all have an interest in learning what the corporations are claiming and what our government is doing to protect our interests and the media play a vital role in that.
How do these NAFTA tribunals limit our freedom of expression?
The courts have been very clear that to exercise our right to freedom of expression we also need access to information. The NAFTA process is secret. We dont know how many claims there have been. We cant see the evidence for or against the claims. We cant judge the competence of those who sit in judgement. All of these restrict our ability to express an informed opinion.
How can Canadian Charter rights apply to international agreements?
Were not talking about imposing Canadian law on other governments. Were talking about ensuring that any agreement signed by our government respects our Charter rights. NAFTA tribunals are dealing with claims that have a huge impact on our day to day lives as Canadians our environment, our public services, the rights of local governments. Its unacceptable that such important decisions are made in secret and its crucial that the courts send a clear message that our Charter rights cannot be neglected.
What remedy are you seeking from the courts?
We believe the courts should order the government to renegotiate the rules around NAFTA disputes to open up the process to public scrutiny. Its not acceptable to Canadians that issues of vital importance are decided in secret. It offends our rights and it undermines our democracy.
What reaction do you expect from the government to your claim?
The government appears to run hot and cold on Chapter 11. One moment they admit its a problem. The next, they say its fine as it is. The key is the government has a duty to make sure that any agreement it signs respects our Charter rights as Canadians. If they reject that logic, theyll have to make their case in court and to the Canadian public.
What if the court decides this potato is too hot to handle?
If a lower court rejects our case, were prepared to appeal right up to the Supreme Court.
It may be the courts will decide the rules must change to conform to the Charter but they will give the government some time to negotiate changes before the ruling comes into effect. For us, thats still a victory. It sends a clear message that our government has been asleep at the switch in protecting our democratic rights. It sends a clear message that trade agreements must respect our Charter rights. And it sends a clear signal to corporations that their claims will no longer be shielded from public scrutiny.
What if the government was to change this one part of NAFTA and leave the rest. Would you be satisfied?
Our concerns about NAFTA extend beyond transparency. But we also believe that its essential to open up this process to public scrutiny because the more the public knows about NAFTA, the greater the pressure will build on the government.
And its not just NAFTA. We know that in the draft of the Free Trade Area of the Americas theyre talking about more of these same secret tribunals. If the government cares about democracy, this has to stop.
How is your case related to the other Charter challenge that has been launched against NAFTA?
We see these cases as complementary. This challenge focuses in on one issue, the other is broader. But theyre both based on the belief that our Charter rights cannot be trampled by international trade agreements.