Stop the Mine – Update! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



As politicians finalize the decision pertaining to a proposed new asbestos mine in Quebec,1 growing opposition – as expressed in newspaper articles, editorials, letters and emails – has revealed the project to be one of the most controversial ventures of recent times. Current articles in the English and French Canadian press have exposed the fallacies in government rhetoric, regional sensitivities over asbestos and the pressure being exerted by industry forces backing the new mine.2

The Canadian medical community has become mobilized and vocal in its opposition to the mine. A letter signed by more than 50 Quebec medical doctors, which was sent on January 6, 2011, called on the Quebec College of Physicians to reject the mine proposal on the grounds of public health. On January 11, asbestos advocates advised the medical body to stay out of the debate saying it “was not appropriate for the college to support an anti-asbestos crusade.”3 The next day, it was reported that the College was “unlikely to take a stand on the question of mining and exporting asbestos to developing countries.” A College spokesman said: “We are not here to give our support to one group or another, we are here to defend the practice of medicine.”4

In the midst of the undoubtedly feverish consultations which took place amongst College officials over the January 6 letter, another letter arrived. This one was written by Professor Arthur Frank and was signed by 120+ medical doctors, health professionals and scientists from 25 countries. It was addressed to Dr. Charles Bernard, the President-Director General of the College, who was urged to:

“call on Premier Charest not to finance a new asbestos mine… to export millions of tonnes of asbestos to the developing world, where it would cause enormous harm to health for generations…

We urgently call on you to intervene in defense of public health and in defense of the ethical obligations set out in the Code of Ethics of the Quebec College des Medecins.”5

Having received no response from the College, on January 13 Dr. Frank commented:

“Given the actions to date in Canada it is not surprising that a letter signed by so many scientists goes unrecognized as so many in the world try to avoid preventable disease and death.” 6

In the face of appeals to “stop the mine” from medical professionals,7 citizens, human rights campaigners and labor activists, Canadian politicans at all levels have adopted a similar strategy: attack the critics and ignore the issues; never engage, always obfuscate.8 A typical example of this behaviour was exhibited last month by Hughes Grimard, the Mayor of Asbestos, who was twice asked for a meeting by members of the Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec. On November 23, 2010 delegation head Sugio Furuya informed the Mayor of the delegation's plans to visit Quebec saying: “We would like to meet with the people of Asbestos so that they may hear our views and that we may hear theirs.”9 In the absence of any response, Mr. Furuya was surprised to see the Mayor's reply appear in the pages of a local daily newspaper. The December 3 article: Asbestos refuses an Asian delegation included comments from the Mayor detailing his refusal to meet delegation members on the grounds that they were opposed to chrysotile and “want to defend their interests.”10 Mayor Grimard concluded his remarks to the journalist by casting aspersions on the delegation members and speculating on their “true interests;” is the delegation, he asked, being funded by the industry lobby representing manufacturers of synthetic substitute fibers for asbestos. A letter faxed on December 5, 2010 to the Mayor by the delegation asking for an apology for the “groundless and unacceptable accusation,” was never answered.11

Federal politicans have consistently stonewalled overseas enquiries about Canada's role in the global asbestos lobby. It took more than two months for a letter sent by the Netherlands Trade Unions Confederation (FNV) to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to get a reply. On September 24, 2010, FNV President Agnes Jongerius expressed her concern about Canada's asbestos policy which puts it in an “equal position with asbestos producing and exporting countries such as Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.” President Jongerius hoped that “Canada will choose a different position in the asbestos world and will also ban this merciless and cruel substance.”12 When a reply to her letter came it was not from the Prime Minister but from Christian Paradis, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources and a representative of the asbestos mining region. The tone of Paradis' reply was condescending and evasive. Paragraphs 2-3 explained the difference between amphiboles and serpentines, a difference about which President Jongerius was certainly aware. The rest of the letter contained a liturgy of industry propaganda including such old favorites as:

  • “The risk posed by using chrysotile fibres can be managed if adequate controls… are implemented and completely observed…”
  • “The illnesses we are currently seeing in countries that have intensively used 'asbestos' fibres are linked to past high-level exposures and inappropriate uses.”
  • “A total ban on chrysotile is neither necessary nor appropriate.”
  • “(Asbestos) fibres are encapsulated in a matrix in those products (including friction materials), thus preventing release of fibres and allowing their use.”13

In July 2010, the Canadian Prime Minister told a political rally in Quebec's mining region that the Conservative Party is the “only political party that can be trusted to defend the asbestos industry.”14 Reiterating his pledge to “defend the asbestos industry,” he was certainly preaching to the converted. Outside of Canada's asbestos heartland, however, this message has had an all together different reception with accusations of racism being made against a country that offloads a substance too toxic to be used at home on vulnerable populations overseas. Quebec Premier Charest's “green credentials,” for which he has been much praised,15 are looking increasingly vacuous in light of his willingness to also prioritize short-term political gain over the human right to life.

January 14, 2011


1 A decision is expected this month (January 2011).

2 See: The continued sale of Quebec's asbestos is indefensible. January 8 2011.
Mandel D. Quebec: Health and Workers' Rights in the Asbestos Industry Working-Class Solidarity or Colonial Complicity? Quebec Unions and Asbestos. December 29, 2010.
English version:
French version:
Médecins et professionnels de la santé étrangers prennent position. January 11, 2011.

3 Beaudin M. Stay out of the debate, asbestos advocates tell College of Physicians. January 11, 2011.

4 Beaudin M. Asbestos safety at root of debate. January 12, 2011

5 Letter to Dr. C. Bernard from Dr. A. Frank. January 10, 2011; Additional signatures to this letter.

6 Email received from Dr. A. Frank, January 13, 2011.

7 See December 2010 letter from the Collegium Ramazzini to Quebec Premier Jean Charest.
See December 2010 letter by the International Mesothelioma Interest Group to Premier Charest.

8 Kazan-Allen L. Stop the Mine! December 2, 2010.


10 Dufresne D. Asbestos refuse une delegation asiatique (Asbestos refuses an Asian delegation). December 3, 2010. La Tribune.


12 Letter sent by FNV President Jongerius to Canadian Prime Minister. September 24, 2010.

13 Letter from Minister Paradis to FNV. December 14, 2010.





       Home   |    Site Info   |    Site Map   |    About   |    Top↑