Ottawa’s shameful foot-dragging on asbestos continues: Editorial (Toronto Star – July 17, 2016)

The Trudeau government has cast doubt on its stated commitment to reverse Ottawa’s laggardly asbestos policy.

Ottawa’s shameful foot-dragging on asbestos, the toxic mineral used as insulation in thousands of schools, apartment buildings and workplaces across the country, seemingly knows no end.

Though 55 countries, including Australia and Britain, have banned the substance in recent years, Canadian asbestos imports are on the rise. Despite international consensus that the carcinogen should be added to the United Nations’ list of hazardous materials, Canada is among the few countries to oppose the move.

The roots of our dangerous obstinacy are political. Successive prime ministers have defended the deadly mineral in the hopes of winning votes in rural Quebec, where asbestos mining was an important industry for more than a century. Only last summer, three years after the last of Quebec’s mines shut down amid dwindling demand, did Ottawa finally acknowledge that “asbestos, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases.”

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was at last “moving to ban asbestos” because “its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.” This welcome promise prompted fanfare from health advocates and vulnerable workers who know all too well how devastating that impact can be.

Yet in recent weeks the Trudeau government has cast doubt on its commitment to this necessary and overdue ban. Asked for an update by the Globe and Mail earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s Office hedged. Ottawa is “reviewing its strategy on asbestos, including a potential ban,” the spokesperson wrote.

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