Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca
The Canadian government today announced that it will legislate a comprehensive ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018.
This historic announcement ends Canada’s century-old policy of mining, using, exporting and promoting asbestos. The announcement was made by four Ministers – the Minister of Science, the Minister of Health, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Public Works – at a press conference held at the Ottawa Hospital.
The government stated that its approach will be guided by science-based decision making. “There is irrefutable evidence that has led us to take concrete action to ban asbestos,” said Science Minister Kirsty Duncan.
“Across Canada and around the world, asbestos-related cancers continue to hurt Canadian families and pose a significant burden for our health care systems,” stated Health Minister Jane Philpott.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stated “We will put in place the best regulatory measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians as we move forward towards a complete ban on asbestos.”
The ban on asbestos will include:
- creating new regulations that ban the manufacture, use, import and export of asbestos under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the legislative framework that protects people from the risks associated with hazardous substances such as asbestos;
- establishing new federal workplace health and safety rules that will drastically limit the risk of people coming into contact with asbestos on the job;
- expanding the current online list of asbestos-containing buildings owned or leased by the Government of Canada;
- working in collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners to change the national, provincial and territorial building codes to prohibit the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects across Canada;
- updating our international position regarding the listing of asbestos as a hazardous material based on Canada’s domestic ban before next year’s meeting of parties to the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty involving more than 150 countries that support listing asbestos as a hazard; and
- raising awareness of the health impacts of asbestos to help reduce the incidence of lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases.
Trudeau government deserves praise
The Trudeau government is to be praised for finally ending Canada’s long and shameful history as global propagandist and marketeer for the deadly asbestos trade. In every part of Canada and around the world, health experts, activists and asbestos victims will welcome this long-awaited and long overdue announcement.
The government’s statement that it will “update Canada’s international position” on the listing of asbestos as a hazardous material before the next Rotterdam Convention conference in April-May 2017 indicates that finally Canada will play a positive role to support the listing of chrysotile asbestos at the UN Conference.
When the Trudeau government was elected a year ago, over 140 civil society organisations, health experts and asbestos victims from Canada and around the world wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau, calling on his government to ban asbestos and to support the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. The signers of the letter emphasized that asbestos is the biggest occupational killer of Canadian workers, yet millions of dollars’ worth of asbestos-containing goods are being imported into Canada each year, exposing increased numbers of Canadians to harm.
The government has been working on the asbestos ban for the past several months. Finally, the asbestos ban has now been announced and appears to be comprehensive.
It will be important to ensure that the ban is implemented effectively. A national strategy needs to be put in place to deal with the appalling legacy of all the asbestos that has been put in homes, schools, hospitals, universities, public buildings and infrastructure across Canada, as well as the millions of tons of asbestos-containing tailings that have been left behind at closed asbestos mines in Canada. Since most of these issues come under provincial jurisdiction, it will be necessary for the Canadian government to work with provincial governments to implement a national asbestos strategy.
Earlier this month, a group of health, environmental and union organisations and individuals, led by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, asked the government to establish an expert panel to address these issues. It is to be hoped that the government will respond positively to this request.
All those who have been and continue to be involved in the struggle to end the asbestos tragedy in Canada and around the world will rejoice that Canada will now, at long last, join the over fifty countries who have banned asbestos.