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Asbestos Exports: Opposition Parties Call On Government To Ban The Sale Of Dangerous Substance Abroad

Tories Accused Of Exporting Death
Flickr: ninasaurusrex

UPDATE: The Conservatives and three members of the Bloc Quebecois voted together to defeat the NDP's opposition motion to ban the export of asbestos Tuesday evening, by a vote of 123 to 152.

The NDP, Liberals and Green Party who supported the motion were aided by a few Tories, however, who abstained, including: Ottawa—Orleans MP Royal Galipeau, Sarnia—Lambton MP Patricia Davidson, Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer, London West MP Ed Holder and Edmonton—Leduc James Rajotte MP. Bloc Quebecois MP Maria Mourani, who is running for the party's leadership, also abstained.

Canada should stop exporting death to third world countries, the NDP, Liberals and Green Party said Monday.

MPs became embroiled in a heated debate about Canada's support for the asbestos industry after the NDP tabled an opposition day motion calling on the Conservative government to ban the use and export of the highly carcinogenic substance abroad, support international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention's list of hazardous chemicals and develop a transition plan for workers and affected communities in the asbestos mining industry.

"Asbestos is extremely harmful; asbestos kills," NDP MP Claude Gravelle, the sponsor of the motion, said Monday. "This is a substance so noxious that is has been banned from manufacturing processes in Canada and yet we export it to countries such as India where our government has accepted the absurd claim that it is safe to use," he said.

Gravelle, the Ontario MP for Nickel Belt, worked in a mine for 34 years and said that he, like his colleague NDP Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin, had been exposed to the substance.

More than 100,000 deaths a year are caused by asbestos, Gravelle told colleagues on Monday.

Listing asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention would ensure that importing countries are forewarned about the risks associated with the substance and are able to refuse shipments if they feel they can't handle the product safely, he added.

As a string of MPs on the opposition side lined up to speak in favour of the NDP motion, the Conservative government sent David Anderson, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, to the Commons to face them.

His 12-minute speech extolling the virtues of the mining and forestry industries -- in which he he never uttered the word 'asbestos' or addressed the industry -- riled them up further.

With one minute left in his speech, the opposition, exasperated, complained to Conservative MP and deputy speaker Barry Devolin, who was sitting in the chair, that Anderson had yet to actually address the substance of the NDP's opposition day motion.

"Are we discussing asbestos or the forestry industry? " Liberal MP Denis Coderre asked. "I need to know because I will adjust my speech accordingly," the MP for Bourassa told the House.

"The Chair gives speakers the opportunity to work their way towards the matter before the House today. I trust that the parliamentary secretary will do that, " Devolin said.

Anderson only at one point came close to addressing the substance of the NDP motion, noting that the federal government would "certainly not support" anything that would not be safe for workers and that "chrysotile can be used safely."

That's a claim Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry refuted.

"There is not a single, reputable, scientific authority in the world that does not agree that asbestos is a carcinogen. There is not a single scientific authority in the world that does not say that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used," she told the House. "It causes three known health effects right now, one of which is asbestosis, which is a chronic disease of the lung that people cannot use their lung tissue to breathe anymore, so it is a chronic obstructive lung disease as a result of that. The second one is mesothelioma, which is a very rare cancer that affects the chest and abdominal cavity and is linked only to asbestos. The third is lung cancer that is linked to asbestos," she said.

The Tories pointed out the Liberals had also defended the industry when they were in office, but Fry told The Huffington Post, the science was inconclusive when the Liberals were still in power.

"When we were last in office, it was six years ago, and there was still a great deal of evidence that was suggesting at the time that there was a debate still going on about chrysotile asbestos -- they were clear about the other forms of asbestos being dangerous but there was a whole lot of school of thought that chyrsotile is not bad for you if you handled it properly," she said.

"It is now conclusive and quite clear that chrysotile is like every other kind of asbestos."

Conservative Wladyslaw Lizon, the MP for Mississauga East--Cooksville, came to the government's defence and once used the word 'asbestos,' telling the House that "chrysotile extraction" was the responsibility of the provinces, that it supports a "viable mining industry in Quebec" and that the NDP motion was "an intrusion on provincial jurisdiction to ban the use of a substance that is traded around the world legally."

"For over 30 years the Government of Canada has promoted the safe and controlled use of chrysotile. It will not ban a naturally occurring substance. That would put a chill on the entire natural resource industry which is so key to our economic future," Lizon said.

"The Government of Canada created the Chrysotile Institute to promote its safe use. Over the years, the Chrysotile Institute is assisted in the transfer of knowledge and technology to more than 60 foreign countries," Lizon said.

Gravelle responded that exportation was the federal government's jurisdiction and that he was also furious the Tories were supporting the Chrysotile Institute at the tune of $150,000 a year, saying taxpayers' dollars were being sent to maintain an "immoral industry."

It was the height of hypocrisy, he suggested, that the Conservative government and its MPs were supporting a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rid Parliament's own buildings of deadly asbestos while remaining unwilling to tell developing countries how dangerous the substance is.

"As an industrialized country, we must put the global good before domestic political consideration. We came to know in this country how dangerous asbestos was. We banned it, right here in Parliament. We closed entire buildings and are spending millions of dollars because we know how dangerous asbestos is. What is unsafe here cannot be safe once it arrives in another country," Gravelle said. "I implore the government, the Prime Minister, and the hon. member from the region to do the right thing. If their opposition is the loss of jobs, then let us work together on a transition plan to invest in those communities and regions. In doing so we can save lives here and around the globe," he added.

Martin called asbestos "the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known," saying more Canadians die from asbestos than from all other industrial and occupational-related causes combined.

"On a good year we dump nearly 200,000 tonnes into under-developed and developing nations," Martin said, adding that Canada ensures its market access by using its embassies, trade commissioners and teams of justice department lawyers to defend something that Canadians would not allow their children to be exposed to.

"We are exporting human misery on a monumental scale and there is no justification or excuse for it. We are exporting a made in Canada epidemic," he said.

MPs will vote on the NDP motion Tuesday evening.

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