Taking a Stand: Asbestos Widow vs. Canadian Government 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Before her husband contracted asbestos cancer, life in Ontario was good for Mrs Keyserlingk and her family: prosperity, professional careers, children, grandchildren. The 2007 diagnosis of mesothelioma which shattered their lives was a result of exposure received by Robert Keyserlingk aboard Canadian naval vessels. Explaining the devastation of this disease on the family, Robert's widow explained:

“When we received his diagnosis our life changed totally. He, and with him his family, entered another world which was different from everything we had known. This disabling cancer attacks the internal wall around the lungs and the respiratory system caused from earlier exposure to asbestos. There are many other Canadians afflicted with the same deadly cancer: it is Canada's major cause of work-related deaths. There is no cure, no hope, and no release but certain death, which follows usually in the first year after diagnosis. In all cases asbestos is the villain.”1

Unfortunately, Robert passed away in December 2009, two and a half years after his condition had been discovered.

His widow Michaela was appalled that throughout Canada so many people had been afflicted by asbestos-related disease. She undertook research which confirmed the role played by Canadian politicans in abetting the domestic asbestos industry and colluding with global asbestos promoters. In an attempt to spread awareness of these issues she began a website: http://www.canadianasbestosexports.ca/. The uploading to this website of an image incorporating the logo of the country's ruling Conservative Party2 has had varied results: while it increased traffic to the site, it also brought legal threats from the Conservative Party. On July 29, Mrs Keyserlingk received a “cease and desist” email from Dan Hilton, Executive Director of the Conservative Party:3

“It has come to our attention that your organization is currently using a trademark of the Conservative Party of Canada in your advertising material.. This usage is unauthorized and must cease immediately … Please govern yourself accordingly.”

Unfortunately for the Tories, beating up on an asbestos widow does little to enhance the party's already battered image. Indeed, the support being shown for the actions of Michaela Keyserlingk is growing day by day. The website of the Sierra Club features an enlarged version of Mrs Keyserlingk's banner on its home page with some added extras: five images of a skull and crossbones and an article entitled “Screw You!”4

On August 16, an online petition was launched headlined “Stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and stop exporting asbestos.” The text on the webpage is addressed to leading Canadian politicans, headed by the Prime Minister, and says:

“I support Michaela Keyserlingk, whose husband died from asbestos cancer and who is asking you to stop supporting the deadly asbestos trade and creating more asbestos victims.

I call on you to heed the message of Michaela Keyserlingk and Canada's medical authorities. Stop the export of asbestos. Provide transition assistance to the remaining 300 asbestos miners.”

As of today (August 19), 857 letters have been sent.

Michaela Keyserlingk does not have history as a political activist. Her actions stem from the life-changing consequences of the asbestos exposure her husband suffered. The ultimate irony of this story is that the Conservative Party is making threats against one of their own. Robert Keyserlingk was a “true blue” Conservative Party member who served as the president of the Ottawa Centre Progressive Conservative riding association. As Mrs Keyserlingk awaits the next Tory salvo, hundreds of people have expressed support for her actions. Like it or not, the asbestos widow has become a cause celebre. As long as this situation persists, she has pledged to use the voice given to her by the ruling party to spread her message about Canada's asbestos shame.5

August 19, 2011


1 Keyserlingk M. My Story.

2 The text of the online banner advertisement reads: “Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos.” On either side of the text are an asbestos danger sign and the Conservative Party logo. See:

3 Hiltz R, Hopper T. Conservatives send widow cease-and-desist order. August 16, 2011.

4 http://www.sierraclub.ca/

5 Harper T, Ottawa widow stands firm against Conservative threats. August 16, 2011. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1040262--tim-harper-ottawa-widow-stands-firm-against-conservative-threats



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