Montebello: Harper, Bush and Calderon Will Have Plenty to Discuss, 20 August 2007
By Hélène Buzzetti with Lisa-Marie Gervais
Le Devoir,
Go to Original

Monday 20 August 2007

Ottawa - What have the Arctic, climate change, continental pandemics, lead-contaminated toys, and border security got in common? They will all be topics for discussion today when George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon arrive in Montebello for a two-day meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. All the same, Jaime Gutierrez Novales, a simple salesman in a Mexican funeral home, hopes to invite himself into the leaders' conversation.

The meeting will be the third since the March 2005 creation of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) which brings Canada, the United States and Mexico together. Mr. Harper will have a tÍte-à-tÍte discussion with Mr. Bush this afternoon and the three men will have supper together this evening. Their three-way work will really begin only tomorrow when 30 business personalities (10 from each country) will offer them a "reflection" on competitiveness.

On the Agenda

Subjects on the agenda are numerous, according to the briefing made last week by senior federal officials. Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic, which the Conservative government is determined to exercise more, will be discussed. "I should be surprised if the leaders did not bring up that question," indicated one official last Thursday. "They will want to take some time to discuss their respective interests in the Arctic, not only from a sovereignty perspective, but also as stewards of the resources found there."

Faced with a growing number of recalls of goods made in China, the safety of imported goods is also likely to hew out a place for itself in the three leaders' short discussions (their meeting and three-man lunch will last around three hours). "I do not, however, expect that an agreement will result from it," the official indicated.

Mexican Travelers Disrespected

One of the subjects the Mexican president will most certainly address with Mr. Harper during their Wednesday morning tÍte-à-tÍte will be the treatment of Mexican travelers sent back at the Canadian border. A growing number of visitors have been refused access to Canada during the last year. With no explanation, they are intercepted by Canadian immigration agents and sent back to their country after being subjected to cavalier treatment.

That happened to Jaime Gutierrez Novales. The man works as a sales coordinator in a funeral home in Mexico. On December 26, 2006, he landed in Montréal to visit a friend as a tourist with $1,500 cash in his pocket and a return ticket. After interrogating him, an immigration agent demanded to see the friend he was visiting - from whom he required $3000 to allow the new arrival's three-month stay. As that was impossible, Mr. Gutierrez Novales was led into a remote room where he underwent a four hour interrogation.

That was only the beginning of a nightmare for the Mexican. He was hand-cuffed, imprisoned in a 3 meter x 3 meter cell for a good part of the night before he was taken along with other Mexican detainees to an immigration center in downtown Montréal. There he was allowed a shower, but given no meal. Although he concedes that he was never brutalized, Mr. Gutierrez Novales nonetheless had to get completely undressed ten times for complete strip searches. Early the next day, still handcuffed, he was taken back to the airport to be returned immediately to Mexico.

"I was demonized. It was a traumatic experience. I didn't understand at the time why they were treating me that way and I still don't understand. I have money; I even own a house and an apartment," Mr. Gutierrez Novales related in an interview with Le Devoir. "I lost money because my ticket was not refunded. I wrote to the Canadian embassy in Mexico and the Foreign Affairs Ministry here and all I got for an answer was a message from the Ministry telling me that my complaint had been transmitted to the consulate in Montréal."

At the Mexican embassy in Ottawa, they are compiling these sorts of cases, which stand at twenty for the moment. "The Mexican government does not contest Canada's sovereign right to accept or reject visitors, but we demand a more dignified and humane treatment," explains spokesperson Mauricio Guerrero. Mexico is now the country from which comes the greatest number of refugee status claimants, with 3,419 in 2006, four times more than nine years ago.

Pesticides on the Menu

These summit discussions are sometimes unstructured and produce declarations so general they don't seem to have any impact. Nonetheless, the results of the SPP are very concrete. Thus it has led to the will to harmonize regulation between the three countries and to reduce commercial irritants.

Canada and the United States each test the harmlessness of new pesticides before authorizing their use. Now, the two countries will share the task. If one country authorizes a product, the other will authorize it also, without effecting independent research.

Another consequence of the SPP, Canada has recently agreed to revise upward the allowable quantity of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables on sale. With the divergent norms between Canada and the United States considered as "irritants" by agribusiness, the two countries chose to harmonize them. Canadian norms are stiffer than American ones for 40% of controlled pesticides and less severe for only 10%.

But we won't hear about any of that at the summit. As the federal official indicated, "we don't expect the leaders to discuss any specific regulation, but one of the domains where significant progress has been made and where we expect to make more is regulatory cooperation." The subject will be addressed in public in a very general way to be discussed afterwards in its concrete applications by bureaucrats far from the cameras.

It's precisely in reaction to this absence of public monitoring that Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion this week demanded that the identity of the work group participants and the state of progress of their work be divulged. So as to alert the public to what is being plotted. Moreover, Mr. Dion has deplored the downward revision of Canadian norms. "Let us align ourselves with the best norms, whether it's the Americans, the Canadians, and, if possible, the Mexicans who have implemented them. That's the solution; not the opposite," he declared Friday.

According to the senior officials, one must not see this as an Americanization of the country. "It's not about abdicating our sovereignty. It's not about renouncing our ability to regulate in the name of Canadians. It's a question of adopting intelligent regulation that does not create useless costs for companies."

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.
Nancy Price
National Coordinator
Davis CA
Phone: 530-758-0726