Harper must put lives before politics on asbestos: NDP

Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known and the Harper government must support international efforts in Switzerland next week to finally list the toxic material as a hazardous substance, MP and asbestos activist Nathan Cullen told reporters in Ottawa this morning.

Cullen and New Democrats held a press conference in advance of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on hazardous material in Geneva June 20-24, calling on Conservatives to stop ignoring Health Canada’s warnings of the risks of chrysotile asbestos.

Cullen introduced a private member’s bill in 2009 calling for a ban on the mining and export of Canadian asbestos.  The bill was that year’s winning senior entry in Cullen’s Create Your Canada contest and was proposed by Smithers Grade 10 students Hayley McDermid, Claire Hinchliffe and Chloe Staiger.

“Conservatives must stop trying to hide the health effects of this toxic material,” said New Democrat Natural Resources Critic Romeo Saganash. “It’s time they acknowledge that chrysotile asbestos is dangerous, and stop sabotaging international efforts to label it as such.”

Internal documents reveal that as far back as 2006, Health Canada officials refuted the Conservatives’ claim that chrysotile asbestos is safe.  The Director General of the Safe Environments Programme noted he cannot say chrysotile asbestos is safe and Health Canada’s “preferred position would be to list – as this is consistent with controlled use.” 

Pat Martin (Winnipeg-Centre) charged Canada has dumped 750,000 tonnes of the asbestos on world markets since ignoring Health Canada’s advice.  He criticized the Canadian government for continuing to heavily subsidize the Quebec asbestos industry, despite the fact that asbestos kills over 100,000 workers around the globe every year.

“We don’t use asbestos any more ourselves, because we know it is deadly,” said Kathleen Ruff, Smithers-based human rights activist and co-ordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance.

“By preventing people overseas from knowing that asbestos is hazardous, we are endangering their lives. This is not the role Canadians want to play in the world. We want to help people in developing countries, not harm them.”

“Harper can begin to fix this next week by publicly directing our delegation to support the adding of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance,” Cullen said.

New Democrats are being supported by health professionals, trade unions, the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups who have signed a joint letter urging Stephen Harper to stop blocking international efforts to control chrysotile asbestos use.