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NEWS: Harper, Charest defend asbestos industry

The Montreal Gazette reports, “The Quebec government has approved the expansion of the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Asbestos… ‘I told the promoter (Baljit Chadha) today that the government has given its agreement in principle to the reopening of the Jeffrey Mine,’ Industry Minister Clément Gignac said in a news release Wednesday.”

“Chadha and his partners have been waiting for months for Gignac to announce whether his ministry will guarantee a $58-million loan required to expand the nearly exhausted open-pit mine into an underground operation. Gignac aide Jolyane Pronovost said the minister is now making that loan guarantee conditional on Chadha showing he has lined up all the required $25-million in financing from his international consortium of investing partners (by July 1).”

“Chadha’s Balcorp Ltd. has been buying chrysotile asbestos from the Jeffrey Mine in the town of Asbestos, about 150 kilometres northeast of Montreal, for 15 years. The company, an international trade and marketing firm with offices in Westmount, New Delhi and Mumbai, sells the fibre to about a dozen large cement manufacturers in India.”

The Montreal Gazette reported on April 6, “In Victoriaville, Quebec, Harper charged the opposition wants to shut down the asbestos industry and deprive families of their livelihood. ‘Only the Conservative party will defend this industry here and everywhere in Canada,’ he said. …(Christian) Paradis, natural resources minister in the Harper government, is a fervent defender of asbestos – and a gung-ho booster of oilsands development and shale gas. He recently got into hot water for claiming that a report commissioned by Health Canada sanctions the ’safe use’ of asbestos.”

Worldwide about 107,000 people die annually from disease related to occupational exposure to asbestos.

TIMELINE

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. 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.”