Canada's Asbestos Schizophrenia 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



“Logical Insanity: Canadian Governmental Policy and the Case of Asbestos,”1 is the title of a 2010 Major Research Project submitted by Derek A. Spruce, a student in the Masters Program of Ontario's Wilfrid Laurier University. The title aptly sums up the contents of this well-written examination of Canada's policy on asbestos, a substance it strictly regulates at home but carelessly exports to developing countries. While the discussion, which takes place within an exploration of Marxist theory, incorporates other topical issues, the majority of the text relates to the contradictions and compromises foisted on Quebec and Canadian politicans by the country's commercial exploitation of chrysotile asbestos.

Not only does this sixty-nine page document contain a wealth of facts but it also highlights inconsistencies between the handling of asbestos in Canada and abroad. At home, a de facto asbestos ban exists and “stringent use and handling regulations have been implemented” for asbestos-containing products in situ. In the author's own university, periodic asbestos audits had been conducted “by specialized independent experts” to identify areas where asbestos was present. One example of the university's concern about the asbestos hazard was revealed by action taken following the fall of a friable asbestos composite ceiling tile to the floor. Commenting on this incident, the University's Director of Environment/Occupational Health & Safety said:

“The procedure is to get everyone out of the immediate vicinity and physically seal the area off and then contact the experts. The experts will then enter the area in full-covering body suits with an independent air supply. They will vent the area and undertake to remove the asbestos contamination.”

Although the Canadian chrysotile industry has vowed not to export:

“to companies that do not use chrysotile in a manner that is consistent with Canada's controlled-use approach… Canada does not have the legal authority to monitor exposures in other countries… (Canada) doesn't verify whether buyers follow Canadian-style rules when using asbestos… seeking such information would violate foreign sovereignty.”

This thesis was written prior to the controversy over the opening of the new asbestos underground mine in Quebec. As we await the Quebec Government's decision on whether it will underwrite a $58 million loan guarantee to enable this project to proceed, a decision expected this month (January 2011),2 the concluding words of Spruce's dissertation have a worrying resonance:

“In the case of asbestos, the Quebec government has made as many concessions as possible while still maintaining a viable industry. Any further restriction on asbestos use and export will effectively end the Canadian industry as a whole. As a result, the public should not expect to see the Canadian governments acting any differently in the future. As long as the Capitalist system is the socio-economic system followed in Canada, the public's best interest will perpetually be in opposition to Capital's and governments face the impossibility of satisfying both. Canada's asbestos policy exposes the logical insanity which is intrinsic in governmental decision making.”

January 4, 2011


1 Spruce D. Logical Insanity: Canadian Governmental Policy and the Case of Asbestos. 2010.
This dissertation has been uploaded to the IBAS website with the kind permission of the author who retains the copyright. The author can be contacted at

2 Kazan-Allen L. Stop the Mine. December 2, 2010.
Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada: Events in Canada. December 18, 2010.



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