Quebec Privateers Face Mounting Opposition
Bernard Coulombe, Baljit Chadha and their partners in the controversial new asbestos project in Asbestos, Quebec must be savouring their victory over common sense, financial logic and moral rectitude. It seems that they may have won, and millions of unsuspecting people the world over lost, the battle to revive Quebec's derelict asbestos industry.1 The announcement last month that the Quebec Government had provided $58 million to develop new underground mining facilities at the Jeffrey Mine triggered an outpouring of condemnation from asbestos victims, scientists, doctors, trade unionists, human rights' advocates and occupational health and safety campaigners in Canada and abroad.2
Every day, it seems another article, editorial, column or protest excoriating the Charest Government's decision seems to surface. Yesterday (July 30, 2012), the Montreal Gazette announced that Quebec's financial involvement in the mine had changed; what had been originally been promised, a $58m loan guarantee, has been upgraded to a $58m loan. It seems that even the promise of government backing was not enough to convince weary investors of the project's financial viability. Explaining away this not insignificant change, a spokesman for the Economic Development Ministry said: The Quebec government has done this to accelerate the process of the relaunching the Jeffrey Mine.
The Quebec Government is the biggest investor in this project. Private finance of only $25m has been provided by Coulombe, Chadha and Ulan Marketing Co. Ltd, an asbestos conglomerate from Thailand. The two Canadian businessmen are co-owners of Mineral Fibre Inc., the company which now owns the Jeffrey Mine.
In light of the 2011 decision by the Thai Government to ban asbestos, the involvement of a Thai company in this scheme has raised several questions. Even as civil society in Thailand continues to lobby Ministers to implement, as promised, legislation prohibiting the import, use and sale of asbestos and asbestos-containing products, commercial stakeholders are engaged in a fierce battle to reverse the ban policy. One PR campaign backfired quite spectacularly in April when officials from the World Health Organization held a press conference in Bangkok to reassert support for banning asbestos.3 The Thailand Ban Asbestos Network (T-BAN), the Alliance of Worker Councils, Teens for NoAsbestos and a range of civil society groups remain adamant that asbestos will be banned by the end of this year.
The actions of the Quebec Government have been denounced in the British Parliament and in the Australian, Indian, British and Canadian media.4 On July 6, The Asian Journal, a publication from British Columbia, ran a front page attack on cowardly South Asian Conservative MPs too scared to speak out about Canada's hypocritical behaviour: while protecting its own citizens from the asbestos hazard, Canada is, The Asian Journal wrote, exporting Asbestos Terrorism and Mass Murder to Asia.5 Prime Minister David Cameron6 and Australian Senator Lisa Singh have added their voices to calls for a rethink of Quebec's asbestos policy.
In Japan, Korea, Indonesia and India demonstrations have been held in front of Canadian embassies while groups in the Philippines, Korea and India have sent letters addressed to the Canadian authorities calling on Prime Minister Harper and Quebec Premier Charest to stop Canada's mining and export of asbestos (see letters: Philippines, Korea, India).
In a statement this month (July 2012), the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) highlighted the hazards of asbestos exposure not only to workers processing the asbestos inside the factories but also to those exposed to asbestos on building sites and to consumers, who have little or no protection from the deadly diseases it (asbestos) causes. The BWI is in no doubt that avoiding the use of asbestos and using safer materials is the answer.7 Concurring with this view, on July 13 IBAS Coordinator Laurie Kazan-Allen told delegates to a mesothelioma conference in Washington D.C: The world does not need another asbestos mine.8
Last week, epidemiologists joined the fray when the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology issued a Statement on Asbestos that called for a global ban on the mining, use, and export of all forms of asbestos.9 This document has received widespread media attention and has been issued with a roll-out strategy to attract support from other epidemiological bodies and civil society groups especially those in asbestos-using and consuming countries. With the September election in Quebec looming and in view of the unpopularity of the Charest Government, is it nave to hope that the politicians might accede to the public outcry and pull the plug on this shameful scheme? In the days of the Olympic dream, one can hope.
July 31, 2012
1 Kazan-Allen L. New Asbestos Mine in Quebec. June 30, 2012.
2 Lalonde M. Analysis: Charest government may have miscalculated announcement to open Jeffrey Asbestos Mine with a $58-million loan. July 30, 2012.
List of articles: http://www.areafund.ca/Links/Entries/2012/7/23_Media_Links_2012.html
3 Kazan-Allen L. Thailand's Asbestos Liars. May 1, 2012.
4 Much of the coverage is listed at:http://www.areafund.ca/Links/Entries/2012/7/23_Media_Links_2012.html
5 Desperate Quebec Premier Jean Charest is Going to Kill more Indians with Cancer-Causing Asbestos: What the Hell are Cowardly South Asian MP'S doing about it? July 6, 2012.
7 Building and Woodworkers International. Asbestos Mining Planned to Resume in Canada - Asia Targeted. July 16, 2012. http://www.bwint.org/default.asp?Index=4266&Language=EN
9 Position Statement on Asbestos by the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology.
See: Kazan-Allen L. Warrior Scientists. July 28, 2012