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Another handshake, another deal, still the same secrecy

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As reported by the CBC and the Globe and Mail, Canada and the European Union announced on September 8 that they had completed negotiations on the Canada-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which the Canadian government says "will lay out a strategic direction for stronger future relations and collaboration between Canada and EU member states at the bilateral and multilateral levels," including in the areas of law enforcement, the energy sector, security and intelligence cooperation, and crisis management.

If you're like most Canadians, you're probably saying to yourself, "I didn't even know we were negotiating a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Europe." In fact, negotiations have been under way since 2011. Such political framework agreements are typically signed by the EU and its free-trade partners, aimed at increasing co-operation on a range of foreign policy issues. In October of 2013, the EU's ambassador to Canada stated that there wouldn't be a deal on CETA or the SPA unless the other was also completed.

In November of 2012, the Council of Canadians revealed that negotiations on the SPA were potentially creating a roadblock in the concurrent negotiations towards the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) because of objections by the Harper government to the EU insisting on the inclusion of language regarding respect for human rights.

In October of last year, it was again reported that negotiations on the SPA were being held up because Canada objected to clauses that would allow for the suspension of CETA in the case of violations of the EU's "essential clauses" in the SPA related to human rights and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Huffington Post explained that "the EU insists Canada sign on to these agreements so that other countries which have agreements with the EU could not accuse negotiators of unfairly singling out certain countries with troubled human rights records, while giving Canada a pass."

So, did Canada or the EU ultimately get its way on human rights and non-proliferation? Well, nobody knows.

Even though it was announced back in March that the two sides had "concluded politically" the SPA, calls to release the details of the agreement were ignored. Despite yesterday's announcement, smiles, and handshakes by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs to mark the conclusion of the SPA, citizens on both sides of the Atlantic still aren't able to see what the agreement contains, and to see which side buckled on the human rights issue. The actual text of the agreement wasn't released and apparently won't be until it's ready to be ratified.

This doesn't bode well for hopes that Canadian and European citizens might actually get their first official look at CETA after the expected September 25 announcement in Ottawa of the conclusion of those negotiations. Even though the entire CETA text was leaked by a German media outlet weeks ago, Canadian officials refuse to comment on the specifics of what CETA contains, saying only that "Canada does not comment on leaks of purported negotiating texts."

Despite widespread speculation that the conclusion of CETA is imminent, "Baird would not comment on when the final trade agreement would be signed but said it should happen in 'very short order.'" Of course, no details about the planned Canada-EU Summit where it's all supposed to happen have been released, and if the announcement on the SPA is any indication, we'll all have to wait even longer before we're trusted with the details and official text of what our government has been negotiating on our behalf since 2009.

With growing concern about everything from CETA's impact on our public health-care system to our ability to regulate banks or respond to financial crises to the future of the Canadian shipping industry, Canadians deserve to see what's in CETA before it's finalized.

But instead, like the SPA, all we're likely to get on September 25 is more handshakes, more smiles, and another round of "just trust us, you can see it when it's done."

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