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NEWS: Harper blocks asbestos from UN dangerous chemicals list

The Toronto Star reports, “Canada has opposed listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical, the United Nations confirmed Wednesday, even as the Conservative government maintained its silence back home. At a summit in Switzerland, Canada’s delegation ended days of silence and speculation by opposing the inclusion of asbestos on a UN treaty called the Rotterdam Convention. …Listing asbestos on Annex III of the convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could also then refuse asbestos imports if they didn’t think they could handle the product safely. Canada has twice before played a lead role in blocking the inclusion of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus.”

The Council of Canadians has opposed the Canadian government’s support of the asbestos industry for more than a decade.

September 2000: Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote then-Liberal 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.”

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.

July 2010: We met with MEP Stephen Hughes in Brussels on connecting asbestos and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. A Public Citizen media release in June 2010 noted, “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.”

November 2010: We signed on to a full-page ad that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. The RightOnCanada.ca ad said, “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. But Canada still exports asbestos to developing countries. Stephen Harper is the only national political leader who still supports the export of asbestos. Prime Minister Harper, stop exporting asbestos disease to the developing world.”

April 2011: During the federal election, we highlighted media reports that stated, “Conservative leader Stephen Harper has declared that Canada will not ban the export of asbestos – despite calls from health groups – because to do so would hurt Canadian industry. …He flatly said his government will not ban the sale of the product, which he preferred to call ‘chrysotile’ instead of asbestos. …He appeared with the Conservative candidate in the riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, which is held by the Bloc Quebecois. It is also adjacent to a riding held by Conservative cabinet minister Christian Paradis, whose riding includes the town of Thetford Mines, which has the last asbestos mine in Canada.”

June 2011: In the days leading up to this meeting on the Rotterdam convention, we encouraged our supporters to go to http://www.canadacausescancer.com/ and sign a petition with this message, “I call on PM Harper to: Institute a just transition program for the 500 remaining asbestos workers and the communities they live in. Join the United Nations in banning the production and exporting of asbestos worldwide. If he doesn’t, he should put it back in his own home.”

We will consult with our allies, determine the next best steps, and continue to campaigns against asbestos.