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Canada’s four major public sector unions, representing more than a million workers, have condemned the continued killing of trade union activists in Colombia and called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to halt free trade negotiations.

“We are appalled to learn that trade union lives are being treated as tradable commodities in Canada’s on-going negotiations with the Colombian government,” said the national leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

The union leaders took the unusual step of sending a joint letter to Prime Minister Steven Harper on learning that a free trade agreement would allow the Colombian government to pay a token monetary amount into a ‘cooperation fund’ when a Colombian trade unionist is murdered.

“This is abhorrent on a tragic scale,” the leaders’ said. “That the Canadian government should continue to discuss trade with a country that would suggest such a buy-off of human life is unacceptable and further trade negotiations must be rejected if we are to continue calling ourselves a fair and humanitarian democracy.”

The leaders agreed with others who stated that the idea of a country simply paying a fine for murder, as if it were paying a parking ticket, is not only non-negotiable but also an unforgivable violation of the principles of all democracies.

Citing surveys that show Colombia to be among the world’s worst human rights violators, the leaders condemned the Colombian government for its failure to address the scores of trade unionists who are killed annually.

The leaders endorsed the call for a public campaign to stop free trade negotiations with Colombia issued by the New Democratic Party and the Canadian Labour Congress. They have repeatedly urged the Canadian government to stop free trade negotiations with Colombia until that country stops abusing human rights and allowing the murder of trade unionists and civil society leaders to continue unabated.

James Clancy, NUPGE; John Gordon, PSAC; Denis Lemelin, CUPW; and Paul Moist, CUPE, signed the statement.