Canadian Minister's Asbestos Lie! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



A letter received from Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs on May 7, 2010 so angered a UK asbestos victims support group that they issued a press release headlined “Canadian Minister's Asbestos Lie!” (PDF file) In his letter to the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group (MAVSG), Minister Lawrence Cannon had stated: “At the international level, Canada does not initiate promotional activities related to the export of chrysotile.” Calling the Minister's reply “disingenuous,” the MAVSG statement denounced Canadian authorities for aiding and abetting the asbestos industry:

“Just as a drug pusher is responsible for the fatal overdose of a heroin addict, so the Canadian and Quebec Governments are responsible for thousands of asbestos deaths in the UK and around the world.”

Drawing attention to the UK's massive use of asbestos during the 20th century, MAVSG pointed out that a “huge amount came from Canadian mines.” According to data from The Monopolies Commission Report: Asbestos and Certain Asbestos Products (1973), in 1968 and 1971 Canadian chrysotile asbestos exports to the UK were 106,593 and 111,029 tonnes, respectively (see table); as total UK imports in those years were 175,463 and 164,248 tonnes, Canadian asbestos sales to the UK accounted for 61% (1968) and 68% (1971) of all national consumption. With the long latency periods of asbestos-related diseases, it is likely that the asbestos exported from Canada to the UK in those years is causing the majority of asbestos illnesses and cancers now occurring.

Historically much of the asbestos shipped to the UK came through the docks in Liverpool. In 1997, according to the United States Geological Survey, 4,320 tonnes of asbestos were imported by the UK. Information from the Mersey Port Health Authorities states that in that year “2390 metric tons of white asbestos, Chrysotile, were imported from Canada through the Port of Liverpool.” In other words, at least 55% of all UK asbestos imports in 1997 was sent from Canada to Liverpool.1 It is little wonder then that the North West of England has the country's 3rd worst incidence of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.2 The impact of occupational exposures experienced by dock workers combined with that which took place in heavy industry and construction in Merseyside is reflected in MAVSG's caseload. Since 1992, this registered charity has assisted thousands of asbestos victims including those who were exposed to asbestos domestically or environmentally.

There is absolutely no doubt about the responsibility that successive Canadian Governments have for the global epidemic of asbestos-related disease. The fact that the country's worst epidemic of occupational disease has – to a large part – been caused by Canada will not be lost on the community of asbestos victims and groups which is working to achieve justice for the injured. That the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs has the effrontery to deny his country's role in the occupational holocaust caused by asbestos is an abomination. He and the other asbestos apologists will be held to account.

May 16, 2010

UK Asbestos Imports 3


 Tons (%)            Value (000)
 1968 1971            1968            1971
Canada106,593 (61) 111,029 (69)7,7418,303
South Africa37,610 (21) 26,535 (16)2,4162,057
Swaziland23,792 (14) 18,180 (11)2,5112,037
Others7,468 (4)   8,504 (5)  354514
Total175,463        164,248       13,02212,911



1 It is not known where the remaining 1,930 tonnes came from or through which ports they were transited.


3 Source: The Monopolies Commission Report - Asbestos and certain Asbestos Products (1973). See: paragraph 15, page 5



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