Tragic Consequences of Asbestos Exposure 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On August 26, 2005, news that Chuck Strahl had contracted asbestos cancer generated front-page headlines in local and national newspapers in Canada. This appalling diagnosis is no different to that received by thousands of other Canadians every year. What is different, however, is that Mr. Strahl is the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. The Conservative politician, who has represented the constituency of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon since 1993, is a popular Parliamentarian amongst voters and fellow MPs. From the newspaper column he wrote on August 22, 2005, he comes across as forthright and truthful. “This column,” he wrote “is about my cancer:”

“By week's end the pathologists had determined that the lining of my lung (the pleura) had developed cancer, likely because of an exposure to asbestos when I was a young man. My logging days included a time when we used open, asbestos brakes on the yarders, and while my exposure wasn't that lengthy, it was intense. Typically, 20-25 years later, the asbestos works its ugly magic. Unfortunately, I'm right on time.

A column like this could have the word unfortunately sprinkled throughout, and it is the perfect word for the situation. Unfortunately, I was exposed to asbestos. Unfortunately, my body couldn't handle it. Unfortunately, it targets the lungs. Unfortunately, there is no cure, only treatment. Unfortunately, like all cancer, the disease has an awful, debilitating effect on your family and friends, all of whom want to help, can't believe it is happening, and just wish they could do something to make it right again.”

There is another unfortunately that Mr. Strahl could have included. Unfortunately, the Canadian Government has, working with national and global asbestos stakeholders, aggressively promoted the continuing use of asbestos throughout the world. As industrialized countries have banned or seriously restricted the use of asbestos, new markets have been developed to absorb the pariah fiber. The same asbestos which is killing Mr. Strahl continues to jeopardise the lives of millions of workers, consumers and members of the public in developing countries throughout Asia and Latin America.

When told of Mr. Strahl's illness, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale expressed surprise and said “I certainly hope that he'll wage a successful battle and recover from this.” Ralph Goodale, of all people, should know that there is no recovery from mesothelioma. In 1998, when Goodale was Canada's Natural Resources Minister, he was part of the Canadian team which brought charges before the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the French national asbestos ban. Announcing Canada's decision to challenge the French Government's right to protect its citizens from the lethal fiber, Goodale said:

“The (Canadian) Government's objective is to maintain market access for chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) products, which are safe when used properly, according to the safe-use principle of the Government's Minerals and Metals Policy.”1

On March 12, 2001, the WTO's Appellate Body issued its ruling which confirmed that: chrysotile is an established carcinogen, there is no safe threshold of exposure and “controlled use” is not an effective alternative to a national ban. Did Goodale learn nothing during the years spent pursuing Canada's WTO action? Apparently not.

The same asbestos that Goodale and Team Canada wanted to ram down the throats of the French has caused massive levels of illness and death in Canada. In 2003, epidemiologists working for Quebec's National Institute of Public Health announced that:

“The rate of mesothelioma for Quebec men is one of the highest in the world, exceeded only by some counties in Britain, parts of Australia and the Netherlands… Nowhere in the world is there a higher rate of mesothelioma for women than in Quebec.”2

By the time, Mr. Strahl received his lethal exposure, it was widely known that asbestos caused a range of debilitating and fatal diseases. Had the Canadian government acted on asbestos sooner, Mr. Strahl's cancer would, almost certainly, have been prevented. Had the Canadian Government acted on asbestos at any time during the 20th century, the asbestos cancer epidemic which is now raging in the U.S., UK, France, Italy, Australia, Japan and elsewhere could have been averted and the tragic loss of life from asbestos which is expected in countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Korea and Malaysia in the coming decades could have been avoided. Canada has schemed and colluded with global asbestos pushers desperate to snatch a few more bucks before they are finally exposed for the murderers they are. Out of respect for the personal and global tragedy which Mr. Strahl represents, it is time for the Canadian Government to acknowledge that the best thing to do with asbestos is to leave it in the ground.

September 1, 2005


1 News release No. 135, May 28, 1998. The Canadian Government to Refer the Issue of Chrysotile Asbestos to the WTO.

2 Asbestos Alarm Sounded. Kevin Doughtery. The Gazette. December 2, 2003.



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