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Environment, Federal Politics, Global Affairs

NDP wakes up to hypocrisy of asbestos mining and export from Quebec

Asbestis Mining in Quebec

CBC is reporting through the Access to Information Act, that the Harper government rejected a 2006 recommendation from Health Canada to support a global ban on asbestos. Health Canada suggested that the government reverse their previous commitment to keep asbestos off the UN list of banned hazardous materials, and Harper refused.

The 2006 Rotterdam Convention “comprises a list of hazardous substances that require countries to disclose any restrictions imposed for health or environmental reasons by exporting countries. Importing countries would then decide whether to import the substance, ban it, or restrict it, something known as prior informed consent,” according to the CBC.

Over 52 countries, including Canada, have banned its use domestically. But Canada, in addition to Russia (among others), is in the hypocritical position of removing it from domestic buildings whilst mining and exporting it to the developing world.

Yet according to the CBC, “Canadian officials have long held that the government’s approach to selling asbestos abroad is a responsible one.”

The government maintains that “by pursuing a policy of controlled-use and working with developing countries to minimize exposure…the risks associated with chrysotile [asbestos] can be minimized and the material can be safe under the right conditions.”

Not safe enough for use in Canada, but safe enough for use in Bulgaria, or India, one of the fastest growing markets for asbestos.

Quebec NDP MP Pat Martin had this to say on the recent NDP pressure on Harper to support asbestos’ inclusion on the Rotterdam list, as reported in the Montreal Gazette:

“I used to work in the asbestos mines and they were lying to us about the health hazards of asbestos then and they are lying today because of this irrational, unnatural affinity that Canada has for this Class A carcinogen,” Martin said. “It’s appalling; it’s a disgrace; it’s an international shame and, in fact, it gives a big black eye to Canada’s boy-scout image around the world, if we’re dumping this carcinogen into unsuspecting developing nations.”

I would disagree with Martin that any country that buys asbestos from Canada is “unsuspecting,”  because as Fernand Turcotte, “professor emeritus of public health at Laval University in Quebec City” indicated, “the scientific evidence about the harmful effects of asbestos have been clear for 50 years, and…no credible scientist disputes the consensus.”

This is a “F*ck Your Jobs” moment of epic proportions, which I first wrote about here. There can be no possible argument in favour of Canada’s mining and selling of asbestos other than it is a profitable industry in a region of the country where the Conservatives hope to maintain good relations, and safeguard destructive jobs. The sheer audacity and petty greed of the industry and the government that supports them is astounding to so blatantly profit from the mining and distribution of a known, toxic substance.

It also speaks to a troubling disregard for the health and safety of the citizens we sell this material to.

This is a no-brainer, and so far from a partisan issue that I am amazed in 2011 this has not been adequately dealt with yet.

Canada needs to get its act together on asbestos and stop the hypocrisy.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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