Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau Commits to Ban Asbestos

Legislation & Litigation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced what labor and public health groups have spent years waiting to hear about the nation’s asbestos epidemic.

“We’ve actually made the commitment that we are moving forward on a ban,” Trudeau said. “We know that its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.”

Trudeau made the comment in response to a trade union leader’s question while speaking at Canada’s Building Trades Union policy conference in Ottawa, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news agency.

While the country no longer exports asbestos, Canada still imports products that contain the deadly fiber, including construction materials and automotive friction materials.

Second Federal Initiative Against Asbestos

Trudeau’s comments follow an April 1 declaration from Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) prohibiting the use of asbestos products in new construction and renovation of federal buildings.

The federal department’s announcement came in response to public outcry in February after CBC revealed PSPC was still using asbestos products to build new government buildings.

“We have heard the concerns expressed by Canadians over the continued use of asbestos,” Minister of Public Services and Procurement Judy Foote said in an email to CBC officials.

Foote added the agency was in the process of creating an inventory of owned and leased buildings to identify those containing asbestos.

National Day of Mourning Highlights Asbestos-Related Deaths

One Toronto woman feels a ban is about 60 years late.

Michelle Cote’s father, a former boilermaker, has mesothelioma, a fatal cancer definitively linked to asbestos exposure.

Cote expressed her frustration over Canada’s lagging policy to outlaw asbestos in a news conference on April 28, which marks the country’s National Day of Mourning. The holiday commemorates workers killed or injured on the job.

“This is absolutely incomprehensible to me that we’re putting everyone at risk. We need to stop it,” Cote told the assembled crowd as she cried.

Cote told the crowd asbestos poisoning remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in Canada — more than 60 years after it was identified as a carcinogen.

The Ontario-based Occupational Cancer Research Centre reports asbestos may be responsible for more than 2,000 new cases of cancer annually.

Even with a nationwide ban, Cote fears people will continue to be exposed to asbestos in future years because of its presence in buildings.

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Labor Leaders Push for Immediate Action

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff hopes to expedite the ban.

He wrote to ministers of labor, industry and science, urging them to announce a plan for a comprehensive ban before Parliament wraps for the summer.

The CLC is the largest labor organization in Canada, involving dozens of national and international unions. Its recommendations for the ban include:

  • Legislation banning the use, import and export of all asbestos-containing products
  • A national registry of all public buildings containing asbestos
  • A national registry of all workers diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions

“It’s imperative that this government take the message and do the right thing. The right thing is not going to disrupt our economy, nor is it going to create challenges that this government can’t manage,” Yussuff said.

News Agency Creates National Inventory of Asbestos

As Canadians await an official ban, CBC created an unofficial national registry of federal buildings that contain asbestos.

The news agency launched an inquiry that revealed at least 24 federal departments and agencies own buildings contaminated with the toxic mineral. It shared the results in an interactive map on its website.

Some of the departments that provided a list of affected buildings include:

  • Corrections Canada
  • Parks Canada
  • The Canada Revenue Agency
  • Natural Resources Canada
  • Global Affairs
  • Library and Archives Canada
  • Health Canada
  • The National Research Council
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Additional federal agencies reported they don’t keep track of buildings that contain asbestos or are working on an inventory they will later submit.

After Trudeau spoke at the policy conference, his officials confirmed the Prime Minister’s Office is reviewing its asbestos strategy, including the possibility of a national ban.

If an official ban is approved in Canada, the nation will join more than 55 countries that have already outlawed asbestos. The World Health Organization calls for the use of safer alternatives.

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