Lies + Subterfuge = Canada's Asbestos Policy
At a United Nations meeting in 2003, Canada blocked the addition of chrysotile asbestos to a list of hazardous chemicals subject to international trade restrictions. This move was condemned by asbestos victims' groups, public health campaigners, environmentalists and officials supervising the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals.1 Rejecting the widespread criticism of the Canadian-led opposition to the listing of chrysotile, Bernard Made, co-head of Canada's delegation at the UN negotiations and Chief of the Chemicals Control Division of Environment Canada, pleaded for more time, telling the Associated Press: We haven't taken a position. At this point we are not for or against. We haven't completed our consultations.
While the consultations may not have been completed, they had certainly been on-going for a considerable time. Mr. Made is one of several Canadian civil servants whose name appears on emails about the PIC procedure circulated in Canada between January and October 2002; copies of these emails were obtained by Canadian Researcher Ken Rubin under the Access to Information Act in 2002. Other civil servants on the distribution list are:
Louis Perron ||Senior Policy Adviser Chrysotile Asbestos, Minerals and Metals Sector, Natural Resources Canada|
|Brian Smith||Natural Resources Canada|
|Paul Walters||Health Canada|
|Jennifer Daubeny||Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade|
|Martin-Pierre Pelletier||Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade|
Rene Desjadins ||Chemicals Control Division, National Office of Pollution Prevention, Environment Canada|
Eric Robinson ||Trade Policy Officer, Technical Barriers and Regulations Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade|
Jean-Louis Wallace ||Chemicals & Hazardous Wastes, Minerals & Metals, and Atmosphere, Environmental Relations Division, International Environmental Affairs Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade|
Rob Ward||Senior Compliance Officer, Compliance and Regional Operations Subdivision, Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Health Canada|
Aleksander Ignatow ||Nonferrous Division, Mineral & Metal Policy Branch, Minerals and Metals Sector, Natural Resources Canada|
|Paul Waters||Health Canada|
Canada's use of delaying tactics is part of a long-term strategy to protect asbestos sales as explained by Eric Robinson in his email of February 5, 2002:
One of the questions I'd like to consider is whether or not we would like to have discussion of chrysotile differed (sic; deferred?) given that it has been added to the agenda on short notice (Jan. 18, 2002). As it stands, chrysotile had been added to the amphiboles agenda item which seems to blur a distinction between the different types of asbestos that Canada continues to try to make.
Perhaps someone more familiar with the workings of the Interim Chemical Review Committee could comment on whether or not this is possible (or desirable) Brian?2
Bernard Made, who used the stalling stratagem to such great effect in blocking the PIC listing in 2003, was a recipient of several emails discussing the PIC strategy; he was also, along with Rob Ward, Brian Smith, Louis Perron, Paul Walter, Jennifer Daubeny, Martin-Pierre Pelletier and Rene Desjardins, a participant in a February 11, 2002 conference call, the purpose of which was to:
review four (chrysotile) notifications (received by the UN Committee from the Czech Republic, Australia, EU and Chile) as well as the draft task group report prepared by (Australian) Andre Mayne. A second call, to share the Canadian position with the US will take place today. 3
Following this call, Louis Perron sent a letter to Rob Ward, Canada's delegate to the ICRC-3 (Rotterdam Convention Interim Chemical Review Committee) meeting due to be held during the week of February 18, 2002, which spelt out Perron's interpretation of the consensus reached during the February 11 discussion:4
Canada should not support the endorsement or recommendation by the ICRC to include chrysotile asbestos in Annex III at this time . This Canadian position is supported by the following essential elements that should be raised by Canada's representative on the Asbestos Task Group and as a member of the ICRC-3 at the above mentioned meeting.
On the issue of notifications:
documentation supplied by Chile and the Czech Republic do not meet the criteria defined in Annex II(b) of the Rotterdam Convention
On the issue of the Decision Guidance Document (DGD): it is essential that a speciation of the different asbestos fibres be made as they are different chemicals especially as concerns the difference between amphibole asbestos and chrysotile asbestos two (2) different DGD (sic) need to be done, one for amphibole asbestos and one for chrysotile asbestos.
On the same day as he dictated the content of Ward's intervention at the ICRC-3 meeting, Perron circulated an email on the subject of the Rotterdam Convention:
I reiterate my concerns about chrysotile asbestos being lumped with amphibole asbestos. The Canadian government and the world chrysotile industry has for many years fought for the recognition that these two types of asbestos (chrysotile and amphiboles) are quite different types of chemicals. The lack of clarity on this point is exactly the reason it has been difficult to exonerate chrysotile asbestos for (sic) the wrongs associate to amphibole asbestos We should strive to have the two separated as much as possible and the best way to achieve this is with two DGD's5 and not just two separate chapters inside the same DGD. The Russian member of the task group appears to support this approach also. After all what is going to trigger action is the DGD not a chapter in the DGD. Most parties will not take the time to read the details in the DGD before acting on it. Do any of you read the fine print in a credit card application?
The existence of a regulatory impact statement on PIC listing is confirmed by a message sent on April 10 by Eric Robinson to Jean-Louis Wallace and others:
The regulatory impact statement prepared by Environment Canada indicate that they estimate anywhere from 15 to 25 permits will need (sic) to be issued each year under these proposed regulations. In 2001, Canada exported Chrysotile Asbestos to 51 different countries. You may wish to point out that once Chrysotile is added to the PIC list, (likely during 2003) EC's worst case scenario of a requirement for 50 certificates per year is likely to represent the minimum number required. Environment Canada may wish to adjust its cost estimated accordingly.
The topic of liability insurance cropped up in an April 15 message:
Is the requirement for liability insurance in the Canadian regulations a reflection of PIC requirements? Or is this an optional item Canada has chosen to incorporate in our regs?
Given the current volume of asbestos litigation, could the requirement for Canadian firms to carry liability insurance make the export of Canadian asbestos uneconomic?6
By July, the virtual discussion list was addressing the composition of the Canadian delegation to the September, 2002 UN Committee meeting:
We had an inter-departmental meeting earlier this week to discuss the upcoming meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, scheduled for the week of 30SEP02. Environment Canada wanted to know whether EAS or NRCan was going to consider attending the meeting in Bonn. They raise this issue because of the asbestos file. While asbestos is scheduled to be on the agenda, I believe that it will be presented as an information item. Hence, I do not expect a very large discussion to take place on this issue. Mind you, there will probably (be) some intense discussions on the margins of the meeting. Before deciding, perhaps you would want to wait until the documents of the meeting are available.7
In light of the content of these and other emails, it seems that over recent months an intimate group of Canadian civil servants has done nothing but consult on asbestos issues; more specifically, on how the status quo could be maintained.8 How much more time do they need? On past behaviour till Judgment Day would not be long enough.
If more evidence were needed of the determination of the Canadian Government to prevent global action on asbestos, Consultation Document (CD): Addition of Chrysotile Asbestos to the PIC Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention released on February 26, 2004 provides a classic example of the use of political flimflam to misdirect public attention. Whereas a statement on page one purports that this exercise is needed for the Government to develop a position on this issue and to take into account the potential impacts of the inclusion or non-inclusion of chrysotile under the PIC procedure,9 by the time you get to the end of the document, it becomes clear that the narrow purview of these consultations makes the exercise a futile expenditure of taxpayers' money:
Canada has a well-articulated domestic regime for the management and controlled use of chrysotile in Canada. These consultations are not designed to review Canada's domestic policy on the risk management of chrysotile. They are meant to gather the view of Canadians on the following questions related to the addition of chrysotile to the PIC procedures of the Rotterdam Convention:
What impact, if any, do you foresee if chrysotile becomes subject to the PIC procedure?
What impacts, if any, do you foresee if Canada opposes the addition of chrysotile to the PIC procure?
How could these potential impacts be addressed?
Should Canadian asbestos victims, their representatives or concerned citizens attempt to participate in the consultation process, they would, given the clearly stated remit, be ignored. This bogus consultation continues the entrenched federal policy of marginalizing Canadian asbestos victims, of whom there are many according to epidemiological data released by Quebec scientists last year and evidence from people with first-hand experience of the human cost of Canadian asbestos. Keith McMillan, National Health and Safety Representative of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, describing one of many personal tragedies he has witnessed, wrote:
A couple came to see me at my office in Sarnia. He was dying of lung cancer. We filed a compensation claim because he was an insulation worker and had pleural plaques. Five months later they came to me again. His wife had mesothelioma, a lung cancer caused only by asbestos. He had worn his clothing home from his insulator work every day. She died one week prior to he. His claim was allowed shortly after he died. No monies were paid because his only dependent, his wife, had died a week earlier than he This is the legacy of the 'controlled' use of this substance.
Dr. Abe Reinhartz, a Medical Consultant, placed the Canadian problem in a global context:
I have examined scores of workers in Sarnia, Ontario, which likely has the highest burden of asbestos related disease nationally. Many of these workers continue to be exposed to asbestos without the proper precautions because the nature of their work is such that asbestos exposures cannot be predicted asbestos is one of the most potent occupational carcinogens in existence. Continued export of asbestos will result in increased morbidity and mortality in the developing world. Part of the blame will be our own.
The Government's blinkered approach to asbestos will almost certainly result in its failure to take on-board the call for Canada to adopt the precautionary principle to prevent cancer, contained in a report published in March 2004 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba:
the Canadian government continues to export cancer-causing asbestos from mines in Quebec. Canada is the world's second largest exporter of asbestos, exporting about 96% of the asbestos mined here. The Government of Canada has used the WTO to try to stop other countries from banning the importation of Canadian asbestos The Canadian government regularly grants money to the Asbestos institute to help sell Canadian asbestos abroad, while, closer to home, acknowledging that it is a carcinogen and spending millions of dollars to remove it from the Parliamentary buildings in Ottawa
Real cancer prevention will require real social, political and economic change. Traditionally, industry has argued that for each carcinogen, there is a safe level of exposure. Yet the current state of scientific knowledge does not allow us to make such predictions. Our guiding principle should be that the safest exposure is no exposure to carcinogens We must consider the complete 'life cycle' of carcinogens from manufacture, through use, to disposal. 10
There is every reason to believe that when the UN Committee meets in September, 2004, the Canadian delegation will again attempt to block the inclusion of chrysotile; until then, global asbestos interests will continue their campaign to convince the other parties to the Rotterdam Convention that chrysotile is an innocuous substance which should be freely traded. In recognition of the untold damage done to asbestos victims and their families by the commercial exploitation of chrysotile in Canada and abroad, one can only hope that this time, the Government of Canada, correctly advised by its civil servants, will do the right thing.
March 12, 2004
1 A spokesperson for WWF, the global environmental protection body, said: Canada's objection to listing chrysotile is embarrassingly self-interested. Canada is the world's second biggest chrysotile exporter.
2 Email from Eric Robinson to Louis Perron, Brian Smith, Jennifer Daubeny. Subject: Rotterdam Convention Asbestos at ICRC-3. February 5, 2002. File: A0000782_1-000000.
3 The postponement of a decision on chrysotile until Autumn 2004, ensured global asbestos producers a further twelve months of unfettered sales to countries lacking import restrictions. As the majority of asbestos markets are in developing countries, most of which have few, if any, health and safety regulations to minimize harmful occupational exposures, this delay will prove fatal to thousands.
4 Letter from Louis Perron to Rob Ward. February 12, 2002. File: A000788_6-000000.
5 DGD: Decision Guidance Document.
6 Email from Eric Robinson to: Rene Desjardins, Jean-Louis Wallce, Louis Perron, Rob Ward. Paul Walters, Michel Camus, Bernard Made. April 15, 2002. File: A0000822_1-000000.
7 Email from Jean-Louis Wallace, July 10, 2002, Subject: Amiante (Asbestos) / Protocle de Rotterdam (Rotterdam Protocol). File: A0000894_1-000000.
8 There is no doubt that these emails are just the tip of the iceberg; the censorship of files released to Rubin was extensive; not only were vast sections of text blacked out but the release of numerous documents was prohibited under sections 13(1)(a)(b), 15(1), 19(1), 20(1)(b), 21(1)(b), 69(1)(g)(RE: (a)(d)), of the Access to Information Act. Among other issues, these sections deal with: information obtained in confidence, international affairs and defence and personal information. File: AD3040-02-41.
9 Consultation Document: Addition of Chrysotile Asbestos to the PIC Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention. Website: http:www.ec.gc.ca/nopp/docs/consult/Rotterdam/ca/en/index.cfm
10 Chernomas R. Donner L. The Cancer Epidemic as a Social Event. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba. March, 2004.