White Asbestos: Not for Us, says Asian Solidarity Delegation to Canada
After scores of meetings, interviews, discussions and press conferences, members of the Solidarity Delegation from Asia to Quebec have returned home.1 They had journeyed to Canada in an attempt to persuade authorities there to withdraw support for new asbestos mining and cease asbestos exports. Whatever the outcome, their six-day mission to Canada has been a historic achievement it is the first time that an asbestos-exporting nation has come face to face with the victims of their malevolent commercial practices. It is easy to blithely speak of the controlled use of asbestos, a phrase repeated ad nauseum by lobbyists for chrysotile (white asbestos), it is not so easy to dismiss the words of a woman dying from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. On December 9, Mrs. Jeong-rim Lee told a press conference at the Quebec National Assembly:
I have asbestos cancer . Before I was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, I suffered excruciating pain. The only medicine I received was for this pain; it did not work. By August 30, 2010, I had been treated with chemotherapy 32 times. Now, my body is giving time from the harsh infusions which make me very tired, nauseous, and depressed In the last five years, I have learned a lot about asbestos. Most of all, I have learned how it can completely destroy the life and the life of those who love someone with asbestos disease. I have suffered not only physically, but mentally. I'm only a 44-year woman with a husband, two children, and a job. For years, I trained to become a banker. I loved my job and worked very hard to be great at it, but this is all gone now.
My whole life has been destroyed by my disease, a disease which I got because of asbestos. My children will lose their mother, my husband will lose his wife.Please, reconsider the plans for, this time, opening Jeffrey Mine. All over the world asbestos victims are watching you. Please, stop to export asbestos from Canada. You can do it. Thank you.2
Despite their best efforts, the Canadian asbestos propaganda machine ground to a standstill faced with the sincerity, honesty and integrity of the seven members of the delegation, each of whom had a story to tell. While their personal experiences of asbestos differed, they all had the same message for the authorities and the people of Quebec: please stop the mine.3
As members of the delegation were poised to take part in press conferences in the Quebec National Assembly and the House of Commons (Ottawa), the Lancet, the world's most prestigious medical journal, issued a scathing condemning of Canada's and Quebec's asbestos policies. The headline: Canada accused of hypocrisy over asbestos exports was unambiguous.4 The effect of this 1,500 word, 2-page World Report reverberated around the world and generated hundreds of newspaper articles blogs and e-blasts.5 In the Lancet Press Release about this article, its editor Dr. Richard Horton said:
The links between asbestos and lung cancer, including mesothelioma, have been established. The governments of Quebec and Canada should not be exporting asbestos to developing nations where there are few or no workplace regulations to protect workers or the general population from its lethal effects. They should, as governments of a high-income nation, be setting an example to other asbestos-exporting nations such as Russia and Kazakhstan by declaring this practice is no longer acceptable.6
In support of the delegation's efforts protests, rallies and demonstration were held throughout the week in Seoul, Tokyo, London, Paris, Manila, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Delhi.7 These events were supported by asbestos victims, ban asbestos activists, workers, trade unionists, community activists, environmentalists, health and safety campaigners, doctors, politicans, academics and researchers. In London, there was an unprecedented turnout in front of the central London headquarters of the Canadian Government. The activities were noisy, colorful and dynamic, attracting at one point a group of Japanese tourists who busily filmed the die-in staged to symbolize the human consequences of exposure to Canadian asbestos.8 The protestors paraded down Pall Mall to the offices of the Quebec Government where a female representative agreed to accept a letter presented by Tony Whitston, Chair of the Forum of Asbestos Victim Support Groups and asbestos widows from Manchester. Thanking her for the civility of her reception, Mr. Whitston expressed the hope that the same courtesy which had been extended today to the protesters in London by the Canadian and Quebec authorities was also being offered to members of the Solidarity Delegation from Asia.
The call made by the Asian delegation for the Jeffrey Mine project to be scrapped has been heard around the world. The Lancet commentary reinforces the message that this issue has engaged the attention of serious and authoritative institutions outside Canada. This is not a trivial or provincial economic issue. The development of this mine has serious ramifications for vulnerable populations in low-income countries; it is a violation of human and environmental rights, and as such, is a matter that should be discussed at the very highest levels of government. Should the loan be approved, there might be calls for Canada to be stripped of its membership of the Rotterdam Convention. After all, what is the point of having a member which is diametrically opposed to the very ethos of this Convention. This and other options are being considered should this controversial and reprehensible project get the green light. For the time being, however, we can only wait and see what the authorities decide to do. As Mrs. Lee said:
All over the world asbestos victims are watching you. Please, stop to export asbestos from Canada. You can do it.
Christmas is only two weeks away; maybe as its present to the world the Quebec authorities will put an end to Canada's commercial exploitation of the killer dust. That really would be a present worth giving.
December 13, 2010
1 A brief account of their official activities can be viewed on this site (together with photographs and links to some video and audio material:
A fuller account of what transpired will be published in due course by members of the Solidarity Delegation.
2 Transcript of the press conference:
Video of the press conference:
3 Kazan-Allen L. Stop the Mine! December 2, 2010.
4 Kirby T. Canada accused of hypocrisy over asbestos exports.
The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9757, Pages 1973 - 1974, 11 December 2010.
5 A Google search of Lancet and asbestos yielded 252 hits; a search for Solidarity Delegation from Asia to Canada also had 252 hits.
6 The Lancet. Press Release. Lancet Condemns Hypocritical Canada and Quebec Governments for Exporting Deadly Asbestos to Vulnerable Developing Countries. December 9, 2010.
8 For more information and photos from the London demonstrations, see: