By Ashli Pinnock 

In an increasingly globalized economy, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) currently in negotiations between Canada and the European Union seems to be a match made in heaven. This is the biggest bilateral initiative for Canada since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has been in the works since 2007.

From a Canadian perspective the benefits of CETA are straightforward. As Prime Minister Harper urges that Canada’s top priority is to create jobs and opportunities for Canadians in every region of the country, Canadian citizens are likely to stop their inquiry there. However, the influence this agreement has had on international human rights is counterintuitive to the advancement of international human rights from a Canadian standpoint. Inevitably, the opening markets for Canadian goods and services that the agreement aspires to opening political borders as well. With this comes the free flow of people. Instead of asking how this trade agreement may benefit all Canadians perhaps it’s time to ask how this trade agreement will continue to affect people beyond our borders?

Although Canada has often been seen as a world leader among host country for refugees seeking asylum, nearly five years ago Canada implemented visa restrictions for a number of European countries as a means of deterring the number of “bogus” Roma asylum claimants. Was this amendment to the refugee system Canada’s way of skirting a limitation on freedom of movement or freedom from fear? Diplomats and economists explained this move as a way of ensuring that the free-trade agreement did not collapse as a result of the introduction of a visa program for Roma people – one of Europe’s most persecuted populations.

Accordingly, with the solidification of the agreement, the Canadian government has since lifted these restrictions and refurbished the system for considering asylum cases. This was spurred by the suggestion that many European nations with restricted access to Canada as a result of the visa requirements would not ratify CETA. Most recently citizens of the Czech Republic were granted travel access to Canada for up to six months without a visa. What does this mean for the Canadian refugee system?

History has shown that the Canadian response to refugees is not always based on a general policy to refugees through the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, rather it is often contingent on the relation Canada has towards a particular nation. Is this the best way to regulate the refugee system? Obviously the decision as to whether or not access should be granted to refugees should focus on international human (i.e. on genuine principles outlined in The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees) Canada’s decision to shun the ongoing and longstanding violence faced by the Roma people living in the European Union brings into question the unclear trade-offs between economic prosperity and human rights. Has human rights been forgotten in the discourse of the CETA?