Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced Friday, September 14 that Ottawa will oppose further mining for asbestos
Credits: YVES CHARLEBOIS/QMI AGENCY
SARNIA, Ont. — The days of Canadian asbestos exports are numbered, and anti-asbestos activists couldn’t be happier.
“It’s extremely important this community realize they played a role in this. Every letter I received, every voice counted,” MP Pat Davidson said Friday. “Their message got through.”
Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced Friday that the federal government will provide up to $50 million to help asbestos mining communities in Quebec “transition” to other economies.
Paradis also said the government is dropping its longtime opposition to listing asbestos as a hazardous material, a designation that would require exporters to warn importing countries that the fire-resistant substance can cause cancer and other illnesses.
“It is basically a ban because the newly-elected Quebec government has said it will not provide support to asbestos communities, which the other Quebec government was supplying,” said Davidson. “So, the provincial government will ban the mining of chrysotile asbestos.”
Since Quebec is the only province in Canada that still allows asbestos exports, Canada will no longer be an exporter, Davidson said.
“This is such fabulous news. I can’t get over it,” said Sarnia, Ont.'s Margaret Buist whose husband died in 1996 from mesothelioma, a lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
She is among a dozen women who formed Victims of Chemical Valley more than a decade ago to fight for an asbestos ban.
“This is such wonderful news but I can’t get over how long it took,” Buist said. “Scientists all over the world said asbestos was not safe but the Canadian government kept saying it knew better.”
Three weeks ago, she sent a letter to Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois, urging Marois to keep her campaign promise to cancel financial support that would reopen the Jeffrey Mine, one of Canada’s last asbestos mines.
“I keep having to catch my breath,” said Buist. “It’s actually happening.”
“I’m so excited, I’m just shaking,” said Sarnia lobbyist Sandy Kinart shortly after the announcement.
Kinart has been one of the most vocal opponents of asbestos exports since her husband Blake died of mesothelioma.
“The government knew they were selling death to others, yet they wouldn’t back down in all these years,” Kinart said. “This was the hill Harper was willing to die on, knowing how adamant he was about keeping the exports, I couldn’t see this happening.
“Nothing can express how I feel inside right now.”
Sarnia-Lambton is an international asbestos hot spot. Between 1999 and 2008 the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers recorded and diagnosed about 700 workers or family members with asbestos-related cancers or asbestosis.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley called Kinart and other members of the Victims of Chemical Valley “an incredible group of women.”
“They lost their husbands and they took on the government,” he said. “When they could have just walked away, they had the rallies, the walks, the vigils, the postcard campaigns.”
Sarnia council was the first in Canada to call for a stop to asbestos exports 11 years ago, Bradley noted.
The second annual Walk to Remember Victims of Asbestos, scheduled for Sept. 29 in Sarnia’s Centennial Park, will be a victory lap, he said.
“This really does help change the feeling of the walk,” said Stacy Cattran who, with her sister Leah Nielson, attracted 350 anti-asbestos demonstrators to the park last year.
“Of course, we will still be mourning those that we’ve lost because of asbestos, but to see such light at the end of the tunnel is wonderful,” Cattran said.
She called Paradis’ announcements “a huge leap forward,” but said she wants to see an outright ban of asbestos in Canada.
Lambton County Warden Steve Arnold called Ottawa’s reversal great news.
“So many in our community have lobbied long and hard for the federal government to do the right thing ... for so many it is too late,” said Arnold.