From The Star:
Last week, in Geneva, Harper’s government refused to put chrysotile asbestos on a United Nations list of hazardous exports. It was the third time Canada has stepped in to prevent placing asbestos on a list of exports that would have to include warnings of health hazards to recipient countries. Those countries could then refuse the asbestos imports if they believed they were unable to handle the product safely on their soil. The cost of protecting Quebec mining jobs has been high. We are alone in the world, an international pariah. The Canadian position on asbestos exports has been condemned by virtually every health advocacy, environmental, medical and labour organization in this country. We have been ridiculed, scorned, shamed, accused of hypocrisy — even called merchants of death. We have been pilloried in the world’s most prominent medical journals. Protesters have brought their concerns from Asia to Quebec, and our embassies have been picketed by those who say we are exporting death. Prominent journalists — including the Star’s Jennifer Wells and the CBC’s Mellissa Fung — have travelled to India to chronicle in detail the toxic export from Quebec. The World Health Organization says as many as 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related illness. The Harper cabinet has hidden, shrugged and delivered zombie-like message track answers on the matter, ducking behind the word chrysotile. Harper has defiantly maintained that chrysotile, one of the fibres comprising asbestos, is much less dangerous than the other asbestos fibre, which Canada does not export. Still, this stubborn resistance to common sense and scientific evidence remains a mystery.
The resistance to asbestos riddance sounds sadly familiar, a case of the conservatives in power standing up for the business interests of the “asbestos industry”, regardless of the consequences:
…the Conservative Party chief was defiant when challenged on the subject.
He said it’s not fair to deny a Canadian enterprise export markets for a product that’s in demand elsewhere. And he declined though to reconsider a ban on using asbestos in homes and schools.
“We have no plans to do that but chrysotile, specifically, is permitted internationally under conditions of safe and controlled use,” Mr. Harper said.
“Canada is one of a number of exporters of chrysotile and there are many countries, in which it is legal, where there are buyers,” he said.
“This government will not put Canadian industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where sale is permitted.
Conservatives contend that the substance is safe when used properly. Ironically, the nation’s parliamentary building began a billion-dollar project to rid asbestos from its government halls, putting ‘do as I say, not as I do’ leadership — all too familiar around the globe — on display:
The project will take six years to complete but, in the meantime, Canadian government agents are still pushing exports of the fibre. Canada even has gone so far as to argue a challenge at the World Trade Organization that a proposed French ban on asbestos imports would be an illegal trade practice.
Despite recent warnings that asbestos was the cause of 500,000 cancer victims in western Europe alone, Canadian asbestos producers continue to promote and sell their fibre worldwide – especially to developing nations.
The issue became so contentious this year that The Daily Show did a well-titled piece on it: “Ored to Death.”
An interesting parallel has been drawn, by asbestos opposers, between Canada’s exporting of asbestos and its refusal to partake in the gruesome diamond trade with Zimbabwe:
The Canadian government has inadvertently allowed an uncomfortable parallel to be drawn between the controversial export of diamonds from Zimbabwe and chrysotile asbestos from Quebec.
It seems more than a little two-faced to fight diamond shipments because of the barbaric treatment of miners, while at the same time defending Canadian exports of a product likely to kill some labourers who work with it on foreign construction sites.
Good news may be on the way, however. Canada’s asbestos mine industry could disappear by the end of 2012 according to a confidential memo acquired and published this week:
According to a confidential memo issued by the Canadian federal government, the country’s last fully functional asbestos mine is about to die, raising the possibility that the controversial industry may just disappear on its own in Canada.
The Natural Resources Canada memo, which has been released under the Access to Information Act, estimates that the life of the Lac d’aminate du Canada mine in Quebec will likely end in 2012.
Canada’s controversial asbestos industry has nearly disappeared in recent years, mostly due to concerns over the material’s connection to cancer. While the Canadian government continues to insist that its type of asbestos, chrysotile, is safe when used properly, many opponents still call it immoral for Canada to export asbestos to developing countries, especially when the use of the materials was been almost completely banned in Canada.
And according to government assessments, the Lac d’amiante du Canada mine could be gone within months.
“The open-pit Lac d’amiante du Canada (LAC) operation will be the last remaining chrysotile mine in Canada, with an estimated mine life of two to four years,” said the February 2008 government assessment.
Perhaps the collective Canadian conscience will at long last be able to breathe easy…