Harper government still mum about position on asbestos

You’d think that the scathing Daily Show critique, warnings from UN-affiliated organizations and the countless other news stories about Canada’s exportation of asbestos would be enough to sway the Harper government into changing its policies. But you’d be wrong.

Even with a major international conference in Geneva on the horizon, Canada has not indicated whether or not its stance on asbestos will change.

For now, even though asbestos removal has become a must in our own buildings across the nation, the Harper government maintains that it can be used or, more specifically, exported “under controlled conditions.” It’s an alarming claim considering that disturbing or manipulating the fire-retardant asbestos in any way can stir up tiny fibres that enter the lungs and cause cancer, permanent scarring and countless other problems.

Particularly shocking: comments recently made by Stephen Paradis, Canada’s Minister of Industry. He spoke favourably about Canada’s recent decision to “block” the inclusion of asbestos or chrysotile from the Rotterdam Convention, which is aimed at promoting “shared responsibility and co-operative efforts among parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals.”

Yep. Even though 24 Sussex Drive itself literally has undergone asbestos inspection and removal, the government wants to ensure it can send the stuff elsewhere.

The Rotterdam Convention wants to ensure that countries give “prior informed consent” before importing hazardous chemicals and make informed decisions on whether to handle the chemicals at all.

Recent comments by Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s communications director, also suggest that Canada won’t change its stance on asbestos next week.

“All scientific reviews clearly confirm that chrysotile (asbestos) fibres can be used safely under controlled conditions,” Soudas said.

However, a coalition of more than 200 doctors and major health organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Canadian Medical Association beg to differ. They claim that asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Canadian law and that allowing developing countries to handle it is applying a “double standard of inferior protection.”

The asbestos debate continues to snowball and may come to a head at the Rotterdam Convention.

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