Memories of Quebec 

by Anup Srivastava



In December, 2010, almost one year ago, the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) sent a delegation to Canada to appeal to the Quebec government not to provide a $58 million loan guarantee needed for the re-opening of the Jeffrey asbestos mine. I was honoured to be a member of an A-BAN delegation which included individuals with different backgrounds; of the utmost importance was the participation of two asbestos victims on the mission, one from Korea and one from Japan. Our agenda was clear: to urge the people and governments of Canada not to support the completion of a new asbestos mine. Should the mission achieve this goal and the work at the Jeffrey Mine remain unfinished, Canadian asbestos production would cease.

When I boarded the Swiss flight, two things continued to bother me. One was, the preparedness of our delegation (we would be converging in Montreal just one night before the events started) and the other was the freezing weather. Upon arrival, we had a warm welcome from Canadian friends, who might be small in numbers but who were ready to denounce Canada's hypocrisy at exporting hazardous asbestos and at the same time continuing the domestic policy of not using asbestos at home.

We had several events lined up during the few days we spent in Montreal and Quebec. These included: press conferences in Montreal, the National Assembly of Quebec and House of Commons in Ottawa; public meetings at the Universities of Quebec and Laval; meeting with the leadership of Centrale des Syndicats Democratiques (CSD); meeting(s) with the leaders of the official opposition party (Parti Quebecois (PQ)) and Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade Mr. Clement Gignac; and lastly a demonstration outside the Montreal office of Quebec's Premier Jean Charest.

Reflecting on our days in Canada, I think some of the most important outcomes of this mission were:

  • The huge amount of media coverage and publicity in Canada and across the globe that the mission generated made it crystal clear that the workers' movement, civil society and the public at large would react strongly to any expansion of asbestos production facilities in Canada or elsewhere.

  • The Asian delegation was successful in arousing great interest and started off an intense public debate within Canada itself on the morality of the nation's asbestos policy and the potential harm posed by asbestos exports to the developing world.

  • The emotional speech of asbestos cancer sufferer Rachel at the Quebec National Assembly touched everyone's heart. This was evident from the fact that the media lined up to understand her story at a more personal level.

The momentum generated by the mission for the campaign to ban asbestos has continued. Many Canadian organisations have declared their support for a Canadian asbestos ban and their shame at the stand taken by their government. The outrageous behaviour of the Canadian delegation at the Rotterdam Convention meeting in June 2011, when the Canadian veto on its own blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III, led to a tirade of criticism by Canadian civil society and brought worldwide condemnation reigning down on Canadian civil servants, diplomats and elected officials.

One year has passed, the Jeffrey mines have not re-opened although the Quebec government continues to provide verbal support for this project and the debate continues. I am keeping my fingers crossed that better sense shall prevail. After all, the lives of innocent human beings in Asia as well as in Canada are at stake.

December 8, 2011



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