Expatica, November 7, 2012
Martine Aubry, the former leader of France’s governing Socialist Party, has been charged with manslaughter in a probe into whether state negligence contributed to thousands of deaths caused by asbestos exposure.
The charges against Aubry relate to her time as a senior official in the ministry of social affairs, before she became a major figure in French politics.
As the ministry’s director of industrial relations from 1984-87, Aubry is accused of having helped to delay the implementation in France of a 1983 European Union directive designed to strengthen the protection of workers dealing with asbestos.
The examining magistrate in the case believes Aubry bowed to pressure from industrialists lobbying against a complete ban on the use of the material and that she ignored warnings from French health authorities of a mushrooming epidemic of cancers and terminal lung diseases.
Aubry has strongly denied all the charges, describing them as a “profound insult to who I am and the professional and political choices I have made throughout my life.”
Aubry, the daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors, has found herself caught up in a far-reaching probe into how the French authorities handled the emerging evidence of the dangers posed by asbestos between 1970 and 1997, when the material was finally banned.
The specific charges against her relate to the case of workers employed at the Fereo-Valeo auto-components factory in Normandy. Asbestos was once widely used for car brake pads.
An estimated 3,000 people currently die prematurely every year in France as a result of asbestos poisoning and there have been pessimistic predictions that the death rate could nearly treble over the next decade because of exposure in the 70s and 80s.
Lawyers for Aubry, who was formally charged in the early hours of Wednesday following a marathon session with the magistrate, were expected to lodge a request for the charges to be dropped later in the day.
An article on the same topic in the Quebec La Presse newspaper also raised the possibility of taking legal action against Canadian officials.
While Quebec is putting an end to the mining of asbestos, the French court questioned the use of this product, that was permitted by the public authorities to be used in the country until 1997. The exercise could lead to the indictment of several former officials suspected of having neglected the health warnings, says our reporter ……..
The judicial developments taking place in France and Italy are inspiring Canadian activists opposed to asbestos, like Kathleen Ruff, who does not exclude seeing the possibility of seeing Canadian officials one day brought before the courts.
The Quebec and federal governments, together with industrial asbestos, minimized the hazards posed by the use of the product, she says, and should be held accountable in this regard.
“Nothing will change if people are not held accountable for what they did,” said the activist, joined Vancouver.