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NEWS: Asbestos mine opens for September, may provoke further EU concern

Kathleen Ruff writes in a recent op-ed in the Toronto Star that, “Thanks to rapid approval by the Quebec government of a $3.5 million guaranteed line of credit, plus political support from Ottawa, the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Que. – one of the biggest open-pit asbestos mines the world has known – will reopen for the month of September.”

“Quebec Minister of Economic Development Clément Gignac is giving (a further financing) request serious consideration, telling (mine president Bernard) Coulombe that if he can find a private company to invest $15 million, the Quebec government may give the mine a loan guarantee to cover the remaining $58 million, enabling the mine to open by early 2011.”

“To help the industry, Stephen Harper has promised to continue blocking a UN environmental convention (the Rotterdam Convention) that would require Canada to obtain “prior informed consent” before shipping asbestos overseas. At the same time, his government has given the industry permission to use the Canadian flag on promotional literature, which falsely assures people overseas that Canada’s asbestos can be safely used. This political support from the Canadian government is essential for the asbestos industry’s survival. Canadian taxpayers’ money is given every year to the asbestos industry’s registered lobby group. Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, Christian Paradis, who is minister of natural resources and MP for the asbestos region, has expressed enthusiastic support for the new underground mine.”

“The Quebec Medical Association, as well as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Medical Association have asked Premier Jean Charest to refuse any government support for the mine, saying that exporting asbestos is medically indefensible.”

Ruff highlights, “If the mine goes ahead, it will export 200,000 tonnes of asbestos a year to developing countries for 25 years. Aware of the harm asbestos causes, Quebec, like the rest of Canada, refuses to use it. No industrialized country will use it and more than 50 countries have outright banned it. Consequently, 95 per cent of Quebec’s asbestos is exported to the developing world, where people are unaware of its hazards and safety regulations are virtually non-existent.”


A June 24, 2010 Public Citizen media release notes that, “European parliamentarian Stephen Hughes (U.K.) recently tabled an inquiry calling for a WTO challenge of the proposed Canadian subsidy. The European Union has banned all use of asbestos and extraction, manufacture and processing of asbestos products in 2005.”

While recently in Brussels to discuss the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement we met with Mr. Hughes and heard his concerns about Canada’s continued asbestos exports.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, says, “The Canadian government endlessly chastises other countries’ purported trade distortions but apparently the Harper administration’s fealty to free trade does not apply to Canada creating a massive new subsidy that would boost exports of a deadly substance, asbestos.”


In 1999, Canada challenged France’s import ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products at the World Trade Organization. The WTO panel and its appellate body rejected Canada’s challenge. The WTO website states, “The European Communities justified its prohibition on the ground of human health protection…”


The Council of Canadians has long opposed the Canadian government’s support of the asbestos industry.

In September 2000, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote then-trade minister Pierre Pettigrew stating, “Canada’s aggressive support of the asbestos industry and the pursuit of markets, in spite of the estimated and projected death toll from asbestos, is a disgraceful indication that Canada values trade in toxic materials above the health of its own citizens and the health of workers around the world.”

We also released a report that year that called on the federal government to “plan for the global elimination of the asbestos industry and initiate a ‘just transition’ strategy for the industry and its workers.” We highlighted that, “A primary consideration must be to ensure that the cost of the demise of this industry is not exclusively or disproportionately borne by the workers and the towns that are dependent on the asbestos industry.”

In June 2009, we joined with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Auto Workers, Canadian Environmental Law Association, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, MiningWatch Canada, Rideau Institute on International Affairs, and others to demand that Canadian parliamentarians heed the call to ban Canadian asbestos.

Kathleen Ruff’s op-ed can be read at http://www.thestar.com/article/855643–quebec-offers-lifeline-to-a-deadly-industry.

Past campaign blogs:

NEWS: British report criticizes Canada’s asbestos exports, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=4281
UPDATE: Canadians meet with MEP Stephen Hughes, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=4198
ACTION ALERT: Ban the production, use and export of asbestos, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=858