Canada's Asbestos Shame
As the U.S. moves towards a national asbestos ban,1 its neighbour to the North remains stuck in a time warp. The Ottawa Government's politically motivated support for chrysotile asbestos continues unabated as shown by sponsorship of yet another overseas pro-chrysotile event due to be held at the end of this month.
On June 28, 2007, a propaganda exercise masquerading as the Chrysotile International Scientific Workshop will take place under the auspices of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei. The participation of industry hacks, including Dr. Luis Cejudo Alva2 and Clement Godbout,3 the presence of Canadian government officials Ron MacIntosh and Raymond Gaetan and the inclusion on the official program of a celebration (June 27) of Canada Day makes the involvement of the Canadian Government and the Canadian chrysotile lobby undeniable.
Whilst the Canadian Government continues to pour money into defending the indefensible, calls by civil society for action on the country's hypocritical position on asbestos, a substance it is happy to export but will not use domestically, are escalating. On October 24, 2006, Professor David R. Boyd, from Simon Fraser University, submitted a petition to the Auditor General of Canada challenging the federal government's position on chrysotile asbestos and asking a series of pertinent questions:4
Can the federal government identify any peer reviewed scientific studies not funded by the asbestos industry that indicate chrysotile asbestos does not pose a serious threat to human health?
Does Canada have any data on asbestos-related illnesses in the nations that import Canadian asbestos?
Why does Canada believe that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used in developing nations for purposes for which it is banned in Canada?
What tactics have been used by Canada in efforts to prevent the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention? For example, has Canada lobbied other nations to support Canada's position?
How much federal funding has been provided to the Asbestos Institute (now known as the Chrysotile Institute) over the past 25 years?
What has been the federal government's share of the annual Canadian health care expenses associated with disease caused by asbestos (lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma)?
How much does the Government of Canada spend annually on efforts to persuade developing countries that chrysotile can be used safely?
On June 22, 2007, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), Canada's most powerful anti-cancer lobby, will be considering a call to ban asbestos. An editorial entitled: No more apologies: It's time to ban asbestos in Canada,5 urged Canadians to contact Dr. Barbara Whylie, the Chief Executive Officer of CCS, to express their outrage at the government's duplicitous behaviour. Apologies, this time, are not accepted, the editorial concluded:
asbestos is nasty, and it affects people from all walks of life: factory workers, teachers, students, the families of workers, families with asbestos insulation in their houses, First Nation communities in other words, asbestos is a scourge that affects us all. And Canada exports it to developing countries where health and environmental protections are even less developed than our own. Many countries have banned asbestos. Canada is long overdue.
June 15, 2007
2 According to his CV, Luis Cejudo Alva has had extensive experience with the asbestos-cement industry in Mexico; in 1973 he founded the Mexican Fiber Cement Industry Association, in 1991 he founded the Mexican Fiber Industries Institute of which he is the President and in 2007 he became the General Director of the Mexican Fiber Industries Association. He is also the President of the Chrysotile Latin American Association and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Chrysotile Association.
3 According to his CV, Clement Godbout has been active in the pro-chrysotile lobby for more than 20 years. He is a long-term member of the Board of Directors of the Chrysotile Institute and acted as a consultant to the Chrysotile Institute before becoming its President; he is also the Chairman of the International Chrysotile Association.