Asbestos Mine Reopened by Court Order 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



When mining operations were shut down at the Jeffrey Asbestos mine last year1, Bernard Coulombe, the President of Jeffrey Mine Inc., said: "The mine is not closing but production is stopped. We don’t think production will restart for a few years." A fall in asbestos prices and stiff competition from producers in Russia were blamed for the September, 2002 closure. A spokesman for the Quebec Natural Resources Minister confirmed: "The situation in the asbestos market-place is not profitable." When the company’s application for a C$8 million ($5 million) hand-out from the provincial government was rejected, the company filed for protection under Canada’s Companies Creditors Arrangement Act. Three hundred and fifty jobs were lost in the Quebec mining town of Asbestos and a further five hundred job losses were predicted down-stream.

On November 29, 2002, Superior Court Justice Pierre Fournier endorsed a plan by Raymond Chabot Inc., the bankruptcy trustee, which would allow a temporary reopening of the mine to take place on December 2, 2002 for a period of four months. As Canadian law allows the bankruptcy trustee to bypass collective agreements and work out ad-hoc terms of employment with workers, union leaders representing the asbestos mineworkers objected to the loss of benefits. When the objections were dismissed by the Judge, the union announced it would appeal. Within hours of this ruling being issued, former Jeffrey President Bernard Coulombe2 set off for Asia to reassure the mine’s four biggest customers. Before leaving Canada, he said: "Our customers have been concerned because nothing could be done without an agreement… We were nervous because of the legal objections to reopening the facility." Coulombe was adamant that the delivery of 40,000 tonnes of asbestos fiber from the mine’s stockpile would begin within days of the mine reopening.

January 12, 2003


1See: Canadian Asbestos Industry Faltering.
2Bernard Coulombe is now a consultant to the bankruptcy trustee.



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