Asbestos Profile: Canada 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On December 15, 2016 [see: Historic Canadian Asbestos Ban!], four Canadian Ministers announced that a comprehensive ban on asbestos would be implemented by 2018, thereby bringing to an end Canada’s asbestos era during which the country produced 63 million tonnes of asbestos and acted as a global asbestos cheerleader, pressurizing international agencies, conducting pro-asbestos marketing campaigners and colluding with industry and government stakeholders to forestall the introduction of asbestos prohibitions and restrictions.

The mining of chrysotile asbestos was a major Canadian industry for over a hundred years. During that time, the sale of more than 60 million tons of Canadian chrysotile generated C$12,762 billion [see: Canadian Asbestos: The Fallacy of "Controlled Use"]. In 2012, Canada’s asbestos era ended when a new Quebec government cancelled a multimillion loan to fund development work on an underground facility at the Jeffrey Mine [Canada: NO More Asbestos]. Although Canadian asbestos mining had shrunk in recent years to a shadow of its former self [The Mystery of Canada's Disappearing Asbestos], Quebec's asbestos lobbyists had continued to exploit a fragile Canadian political federation in order to preserve an industry which had become an almost iconic symbol of regional identity [Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern, And Then there was One]. Canadian asbestos stakeholders were pivotal in blocking efforts by the United Nations to impose minimal regulations on the global chrysotile trade when they led opposition to the inclusion of chrysotile on the Prior Informed Consent list of the Rotterdam Convention [see: Chronological Record of Chrysotile Debate at the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (COP3), October 2006 and Chrysotile Asbestos: Hazardous to Humans, Deadly to the Rotterdam Convention, Rotterdam Convention (COP4) Dossier, Canada, A Pariah State].

Faced with increasing competition from former Soviet Republics, Brazil and Zimbabwe, the Canadian asbestos industry became increasingly dependent on cash injections from federal and provincial governments [Asbestos Mines Faces Bankruptcy and Breaking Canada's Asbestos Addiction]. Working hand in glove with the Chrysotile Institute, the mouthpiece for the asbestos lobby [The Rise and Fall of the Chrysotile Institute], Canadian civil servants and agencies promoted the export of chrysotile by providing hard cash and soft support such as the use of Canadian embassies to host asbestos industry marketing events [Canada's Asbestos Shame]. The consequences of Canada’s asbestos exports to developing countries were predictable; using this acknowledged carcinogenic substance in conditions which belie belief has caused and is continuing to cause untold hardship to many populations [Canada’s Ugly Secret].

A national epidemic of asbestos-related disease has been long denied by official sources which say that asbestos can be used safely under "controlled conditions" [Canada's Asbestos Legacy – At Home and Abroad,   Canadian Asbestos: The Naked Truth,   General Motors St. Catharines Cancer Cluster]. In contrast to industry’s propaganda, Quebec epidemiologists and other Canadian researchers documented the deadly consequences of hazardous exposures to workers and members of the public [Quebec Asbestos Record Further Reason Not to Export to Developing Nations]. And yet, Canada exported in excess of 90% of the asbestos it produced as trade unions and consumers would not work with or buy asbestos products. Unfortunately, the cost to the Canadian population of occupational and environmental asbestos exposure has been high; the levels of asbestos cancer and respiratory disease in Quebec, the location of Canada's remaining chrysotile mines, are amongst the highest in the world [Asbestos Kills Canadians Too!, Quebec Asbestos Record Further Reason Not to Export to Developing Nations].

In 2003, Ban Asbestos Canada, the country's first asbestos victims' group, added its voice to calls from groups representing labor including the Canadian Autoworkers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, for a reversal of the Government's pro-asbestos policy [see: BAC website]. In July 2007, the Canadian Cancer Society issued a statement condemning the continued mining, export and use of asbestos. From 2008 home-grown opposition to the Canadian Government's support for the chrysotile industry grew in leaps and bounds [see: Asbestos Uproar in Canada,   Canadian Political Leaders Face Increased Heat on Asbestos Issue, Pressure Builds in Canada to Outlaw Asbestos, Taking a Stand: Asbestos Widow vs. Canadian Government!, Quebec Condemns Killer Industry]. In 2010, delegates from the Asian Solidarity Delegation to Canada journeyed to Quebec, Ottawa and Montreal to appeal directly to Canadian citizens to end Canadian asbestos exports to Asia. [Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada].

In the run-up to the 4th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, 125 of the world's leading medical, scientific and academic authorities appealed to Prime Minister Harper to end the veto on United Nations action on asbestos [Canadians Support Global Asbestos Regulations, Canada How Could You]. In 2009, ban asbestos campaigners marked the 142nd celebration of Canada Day with demonstrations and protests outside of Canadian buildings in many capital cities [Not Everyone Loves Canada]. In December 2010, to reinforce the efforts of the Asian Solidarity Delegation to Canada, demonstrations were held outside Canadian embassies in major capital cities around the world [Asian Solidarity Delegation Mission to Canada: Global Demonstrations].


Updated December 2016



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