Little known Canada trade deal a major threat to British taxpayers

A trade deal with Canada - what's to worry about, it surely doesn't seem all that bad, does it?

Yet, lurking in the text of a seemingly innocuous deal between the EU and Canada (known as 'CETA') due to be signed later this year, is a major threat to the very foundations of our legal system and democracy.

It's called 'investor-state dispute settlement' (ISDS), and it's a toxic legal mechanism that gives corporations the right to sue our government when it uses any policy that might affect corporate profits - including money that hasn't even been made yet.

And as some 80% of US big business already has offices in Canada, the CETA deal means the most powerful and litigious corporations in the world will all be able to access ISDS and sue the British government - at taxpayers' expense.

An ISDS case has already seen Slovakia sued for nationalising its healthcare system and have its assets seized in Luxembourg when it refused to pay up.

Under this same 'corporate court' process, the US government has been issued with a $15 billion case for President Obama's decision to ban a dirty oil pipeline in the name of fighting climate change

And Australia and Uruguay have been dragged through secret courts for having the gall to place public health above business interests in order to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes - an approach the British government has said it too would like to adopt.

Millions of people across Europe are already aware of the huge threat posed by this Canada trade deal, and its even more controversial 'evil twin' the EU-US trade deal, TTIP.

More than 3.4 million people across the continent - including 500,000 in the UK - have already signed a petition calling for an end to negotiations on both trade deals.

When the European Commission (EC) asked European people what they thought of ISDS, it received an overwhelming answer: in the biggest ever response to an EC consultation, 97% of respondents said they don't want the toxic corporate court process. The EC's response? To ignore the people of Europe and bring in a cosmetic reform - called the Investor Court System - to pull the wool over the people's eyes.

This week, the EC, which secretly negotiates all of the trade deals for Europe, announced that it's agreed with Canada to use this supposedly 'reformed' version of ISDS.

However, the reforms are at best cosmetic and utterly fail to answer key questions. These include: why is ISDS needed? Why do corporations from North America need to access a private, one-way justice system so they can sue the governments of Europe?

Why, when it has been shown that ISDS does nothing to increase investment, are we so willing to sacrifice our much-prized right of 'equality before the law', which has roots reaching back to Magna Carta? Are British courts so biased against business that the world's biggest corporations wouldn't get a fair hearing?

The European Commission claims that our government will be protected under its proposal. Yet, investment law academic Gus Van Harten, who calls the proposal "a re-branding exercise for ISDS" says: "The text on this point is a good case study for how legal language can be written in ways that may give a false impression of security to the uninitiated."

The German Association of Judges, the biggest such grouping of judges and public prosecutors in the country, also gave short thrift to the proposal, arguing that it "... sees neither a legal basis nor a need for such a court" and that "the creation of special courts for certain groups of litigants is the wrong way forward".

Alfred de Zayas, the UN's Independent Expert on the promotion of democratic and equitable international order, is withering in his assessment of this dangerous legal process: "ISDS cannot be reformed. It must be abolished."

With the anti-democratic European Commission at the helm of a ship sailing straight to corporate dreamland, we must do all we can to alert our politicians to this immense threat.