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NEWS: British report criticizes Canada’s asbestos exports

Meeting with MEP Stephen Hughes at the European Parliament.

Meeting with MEP Stephen Hughes at the European Parliament.

The Canadian Press reports that, “The British Broadcasting Corporation – which claims a worldwide audience of 241 million – aired an in-depth series on the asbestos trade as part of a joint investigation. The multimedia reports scrutinize Canada’s prominent role in the global asbestos industry, which is blamed for 90,000 deaths annually around the world.”


The BBC report says that Canada exported nearly 153,000 tonnes of chrysotile in 2009 and that, “More than half went to India; the rest went to Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. At home, it is a different story: Canada used only 6,000 tonnes in 2006, the last year for which data is available.”

The Canadian Press article also notes, “The report says an international marketing campaign has triggered more demand in developing countries for the cheap building material.” The BBC says, “Pro-chrysotile groups have spent nearly US $100 million since the mid-1980s to support asbestos sales in three countries alone: Canada, India and Brazil.”

“The far-reaching coverage is sure to draw more attention to Canada’s asbestos sector, which has become the target of a mounting, international anti-asbestos campaign. In recent months, health professionals and anti-asbestos activists from around the world have spoken out against Canadian asbestos exports.”


“The coverage also comes as the Quebec government mulls over the delicate decision whether to back a $58-million bank loan to save the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos. …The Conservative government has said it supports the safe use of asbestos.”

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.

To read Kathleen Ruff’s 32-page ‘Exporting Harm’ report, please go to http://www.rideauinstitute.ca/file-library/exportingharmweb.pdf.