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NEWS: Charest’s asbestos decision could impact CETA negotiations

Photo: Jean Charest, Le Devoir

Photo: Jean Charest, Le Devoir

The Globe and Mail reports that, “Any day now Premier Jean Charest will announce whether he will subsidize the re-opening and expansion of an asbestos mine in Quebec aimed specifically at increasing deadly asbestos exports to Asia, South America and Africa. If this scandalous venture goes ahead, it will, as sure as you are reading these words, lead directly to the deaths of workers in the countries who will be using it.”

The Toronto Star reported on Thursday that, “Michael Ignatieff was the star attraction Thursday at a lavish Liberal fundraiser hosted by a businessman leading the charge to reopen one of Canada’s last-remaining asbestos mines. The Liberal leader insisted those partisan ties would not affect his position: he has frequently slammed the asbestos industry, repeating that Canada must stop shipping the carcinogenic material abroad. But Ignatieff was still scheduled to rub elbows with Liberals at a $500-a-head cocktail inside the Westmount mansion of Baljit Chadha, who has been selling asbestos for over 15 years. Chadha has also helped raise money for another longstanding political acquaintance: Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who must make the critical decision about whether to save the dormant asbestos mine.”

The Toronto Star adds, “The Conservative government has said it supports the safe use of asbestos.” In fact, the federal government even funds the asbestos-lobby group the Chrysotile Institute. “Supporters of the purchase say it would breathe another 25 years of life into the mostly shuttered mine and create 500 jobs in the region, about 150 kilometres east of Montreal. Canada currently has only one remaining asbestos mine that is fully operational, in Thetford Mines, Que.” The Montreal Gazette reports that, “A spokesperson for Charest has said any decision on the loan guarantee will be taken on a business basis, taking into consideration the interests of the region where the mine is located and the public’s health.”

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

SEPTEMBER 2000: Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow writes 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.”

JUNE 2009: The Council of Canadians joins 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.

JUNE 2010: A 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.” 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.”

JULY 2010: The Council of Canadians meets with Member of the European Parliament Stephen Hughes to discuss the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and his concerns about Canada’s continued asbestos exports, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=4198. Hughes makes the suggestion that some conditionality on the EU signing CETA could be that Canada stops exporting asbestos.

NOVEMBER 2010: The Council of Canadians signs on to a full-page ad that appears in the Ottawa Citizen and other newspapers. The RightOnCanada.ca ad says, “All asbestos kills. That’s why over 50 countries have banned it, and why the World Health Organization has called for an end to its use. That’s why no industrialized country, including Canada, uses it. That’s why we spend millions of dollars removing it from our schools, hospitals and homes.”