Canada’s asbestos sector has become the target of a mounting, international anti-asbestos campaign, writes Dave Joyce in his LTB1133/10.
"In recent months, health professionals and anti-asbestos activists from around the world have spoken out against Canadian asbestos exports. Selling asbestos is illegal in Canada. Strict occupational health and safety rules limit Canadian workers’ exposure to the mineral. However, the Canadian Government sees nothing wrong in continuing to produce asbestos and to export the killer fibre to developing countries where workers have little or no health and safety laws and protection. Most of its exports go to these poor developing countries. The Canadian Government has in the past funded an industry lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute, which promotes the ‘controlled use’ of chrysotile or white asbestos in developing countries, even though there is overwhelming evidence in Canada and overseas that exposure to all forms of asbestos has caused cancer among worker and their families."
The letter to branches continues:
"The Canadian Government has pressured poor countries to resist moves to ban the use and production of all forms of asbestos. It has also spearheaded the campaign to block additional chrysotile asbestos import bans. Campaigners say this hypocrisy is a damning indictment on wealthy Canada and it is evidence of callous disregard for the lives of workers in poorer countries who do not have the protection of strong trade unions and health and safety laws. Canada’s prominent role in the global asbestos industry, is blamed for 90,000 deaths annually around the world, with up to one million people dying of asbestos related diseases worldwide each year."
The action on asbestos legislation is highlighted as follows:
" The UK Government banned White Asbestos in 1999 and the European Union banned all use of asbestos, extraction, manufacture and processing of asbestos products in 2005."
The LTB goes on to detail the facts around asbestos production in Canada and the campaign within the country itself to deal with the issue:
"Kathleen Ruff’s 32-page ‘Exporting Harm’ report says that Canada exported nearly 153,000 tonnes of chrysotile (White Asbestos) in 2009 and that more than half went to India; the rest went to Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. At home, it is a different story: Canada used only 6,000 tonnes in 2006, the last year for which data is available. Pro-Chrysotile groups have spent nearly US $100 million since the mid-1980s to support asbestos sales in countries like India and Brazil.
Currently the Quebec Regional government is considering a $58-million loan to re-open and expand production at the huge Jeffrey Asbestos Mine in the town of 'Asbestos'. The Canadian Conservative Central government has said it supports the move.
EU MEP Stephen Hughes (U.K.) has tabled an inquiry calling for a WTO challenge to the proposed Canadian Asbestos production loans and investments, designed to boost exports of the deadly substance.
The Council of Canadians has long opposed the Canadian government’s support of the asbestos industry. In September 2000, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote to the Canadian Government stating, “Canada’s aggressive support of the asbestos industry and the pursuit of markets, in spite of the estimated and projected death toll from asbestos, is a disgraceful indication that Canada values trade in toxic materials above the health of its own citizens and the health of workers around the world.
In June 2009, the Council of Canadians joined with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Auto Workers Union, Canadian Environmental Law Association, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, 'Mining Watch' Canada, Rideau Institute on International Affairs, and others to demand that Canadian parliamentarians heed the call to ban Canadian asbestos."
You can read Kathleen Ruff’s 32-page ‘Exporting Harm’ report, here
The CWU supports the campaign and we have called on the Canadian Government to stop asbestos production and export. The CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department has written to the Quebec Regional Government's Prime Minister and the letter is available to download here
Source: CWU LTB1133/10