POLITICS

Trudeau: Gender Chapter In Revamped NAFTA Is Step ‘We Can’t Afford Not To Take’

The prime minister addressed Mexico's Senate Friday.

10/13/2017 14:02 EDT | Updated 10/13/2017 15:34 EDT
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech to the Mexican Senate in Mexico City on Oct. 13, 2017.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the chance for a feminist revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement is something that Canada and Mexico "can't afford" to miss.

Trudeau addressed Mexico's Senate Friday, where he lauded the country for supporting Canada's push to see a gender chapter added to NAFTA .

"With the opportunity in front of us to update a decades-old agreement, this is a progressive step forward that we can't afford not to take," Trudeau said.

The prime minister also called for more to be done to advance gender equality in both countries. As he did at the United Nations weeks ago, Trudeau touched on why many Indigenous women and girls feel unsafe in Canada.

Violence against women and girls is prevalent in all facets of life, from the studios of Hollywood to the digital public squares to our own halls of Parliament.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

"We're dealing with an ongoing national tragedy related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," he said. "We must do better at home."

But the prime minister added that civil society leaders in Mexico City Thursday told him other "unacceptable" tales of abuse faced by women and girls.

Trudeau obliquely referenced the numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations levied against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and drew a parallel to accusations that have also rocked Canada's Parliament in recent years.

"Everywhere we look, violence against women and girls is prevalent in all facets of life, from the studios of Hollywood to the digital public squares to our own halls of Parliament," Trudeau said.

Ginnette Riquelme / Reuters
Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Mexico's first lady Angelica Rivera make a toast during a dinner ceremony at the presidential palace in Mexico City, Mexico on Oct. 12, 2017.

"As a gender-balanced Senate, I challenge you to use your position of power to continue to strongly push for the rights of women and girls, in Mexico and around the world."

Those remarks drew a standing ovation from those in the chamber.

Trudeau removed two Liberal MPs from his caucus in 2014 amid accusations of sexual harassment made by two female NDP MPs. In August, MP Darshan Kang resigned from the Liberal caucus after two women, including a staffer, accused him of harassment.

Disgraced senator Don Meredith resigned from the upper chamber in May when he was facing possible expulsion for having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl. Members of Meredith's former staff also told HuffPost Canada the former senator sexually harassed and mistreated aides for years.

Canada won't abandon NAFTA, Trudeau says:

Trade experts have suggested a gender chapter in NAFTA could end up being largely symbolic.

The Canadian Press reported last month that such a chapter would likely be modelled after Canada's trade deal with Chile, which reaffirmed each nation's commitment to international agreements on gender rights and set up a committee to oversee that work.

However, the pact also made clear that nothing in the gender chapter would be subject to the dispute resolution mechanisms that apply to the rest of the deal.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole urged Liberals last month to focus on job creation in NAFTA negotiations, and cautioned against what he dubbed "virtue signalling" on gender, environmental and Indigenous issues.

With files from The Canadian Press