Ban Asbestos Mobilization in Canada!
For almost one hundred years, Canada was the worlds biggest producer of asbestos. Despite the fact that most of the chrysotile (white) asbestos mined in Canada between 1888 and 2011 was exported, 15 million tonnes were used at home.1 Not only did the production, processing and sale of Canadian asbestos endanger the lives of millions of people around the world, but it also caused untold damage to Canadian workers and members of the public.
Since 2011, no asbestos has been mined in Canada; this was not the result of government edicts or provincial regulations Canada just ran out of asbestos. With a change in the Quebec government, it also ran out of the desire to pour more money into the bottomless pit which was the asbestos industry.2
In the run-up to Canadas upcoming federal elections, asbestos victims, trade unions, campaigning bodies and newspaper editors have called for a comprehensive and unilateral ban on the mining of asbestos and the use, import and sale of asbestos-containing products.
On Wednesday, August 19, 2015 Ban Asbestos Canada (BAC), a network of asbestos victims, relatives, campaigners, trade unionists and experts, launched an online petition addressed to all the federal political parties asking for support for a unilateral Canadian ban on asbestos and a comprehensive strategy which includes measures and resources to support the injured.3 In BAC documentation also released on August 19 a request was made for expressions of support. A message sent on August 21, 2015 by the Coordinator of The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat said:
Shipments of deadly (asbestos) fibres went all over the world and left a trail of death and destruction in their wake. At home, the asbestos bullies denied a voice to their victims and maintained a stranglehold on the media which was only permitted to issue positive messages about chrysotile asbestos or white gold, as it was called.
The asbestos profiteers colluded with the Canadian and Quebec governments to create a climate in which sales of their fibre could and did flourish. No one got sick from exposure to their asbestos was the industrys line. And yet, Canadians, like every other nationality, did contract cancers and respiratory diseases from their asbestos exposures.
Canada has an obligation not only to apologize for its lies and collusion but to support those it has injured. It should start by banning asbestos and providing the financial and medical support which is so sorely needed by Canadian asbestos victims.
Recent calls by Canadian union groups have emphasized the occupational impact of deadly exposures on Canadian workers. On July 30, 2015, Phil Venoit, President of Vancouver Island Building Trades, sent a letter to Prime Minister Harper and issued a press release demanding federal action to address the countrys asbestos legacy. Specific recommendations included the establishment of: a national asbestos registry of public buildings; a national register of asbestos-containing vessels; educational programs for construction apprentices and younger workers; a national asbestos awareness week. The final demand by the Vancouver unionists was for a complete ban on the import of all asbestos-containing products.
It is of relevance to note that the resurgence of ban asbestos support in Canada has coincided with heightened media interest. On July 3 and 4, 2015, Canadas two most popular and influential daily newspapers the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star issued editorials calling for national action to ban asbestos.4 While the piece in the Globe and Mail, having reviewed the countrys toxic and vainglorious asbestos history, concluded that the next logical steps are a ban on asbestos and a comprehensive plan for its safe removal from homes, schools, office buildings and cars, the Toronto Stars editorial, illustrated with an uncredited photograph that I took during a 2010 demonstration outside the Canadian High Commission in London, was headlined: Ottawa should ban asbestos entirely.
For generations, Canada was at the heart of the global asbestos industry; its diplomats and civil servants colluded with vested interests at home and abroad to protect and expand markets for chrysotile asbestos. The time for a reckoning has come. Canada must admit its part in the worldwide asbestos conspiracy and make amends. A national ban is the logical first step.
August 22, 2015
1 According to data obtained from the United States Geological Survey on August 21, 2015, between 1888 and 2011, 63,409,439 tonnes of asbestos were mined in Canada; 48,607,202 tonnes (77%) were exported.
2 Kazan-Allen L. Canada: No More Asbestos. September 16, 2012.
3 Ban Asbestos Canada August 19, 2015 Petitition.
4 Globe Editorial. Ottawas change of heart on asbestos welcome but late. July 3, 2015.
Toronto Star Editorial. Ottawa should ban asbestos entirely. July 4, 2015.