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Canada should stop supporting the asbestos industry: NDP’s Pat Martin

“Let’s let market forces take their toll,” Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin told the Winnipeg Free Press last week. He wants the Quebec and federal government to reverse a long standing pro-asbestos policy and let the last two remaining asbestos mines in Canada, both currently shut down because of financial woes, die a natural death.

For the first time in 130 years, no asbestos is currently being mined in Canada. Last year Canada exported around 100,000 tons of the toxic mineral, mainly to third world countries where critics say that lax to nonexistent health and safety regulations on its use can cause up to 100,000 deaths annually world wide.

Martin himself was exposed to asbestos as a young miner in the Yukon and carries the scars on his lungs to prove it. He is currently enrolled in a follow up study of asbestos exposed patients and so far is cancer free. The prairie MP has been a vocal critic of Canadian asbestos policy since he arrived in Ottawa in 1997. Earlier this year he told The Hill Times it was time for Canada to stop mining and exporting asbestos:

“That industry is dying no matter how much artificial corporate welfare we give it,” he said. “The world is twigging to asbestos finally. We’re the last man standing as it is for god’s sake.”

On January 4, LAB Chrysotile, of Thetford Mines, Quebec, filed for bankruptcy, declaring an intention to re-structure and continue exporting Canadian asbestos, while the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos Quebec is currently inoperative as mine owners seek $25 million in private capital. The province of Quebec has indicated if the Jeffrey Mine investors, headed up by prominent and controversial Montreal businessman Baljit Chadha, can raise the $25 million, the province will provide up to $58 million in loan guarantees to allow Chadha’s group to re-open the mine.

As reported earlier in The Tyee, medical and social justice groups across the country and around the world, including the Canadian Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the Canadian Labour Congress have condemned Canada’s ongoing support for asbestos mining, which has included past subsidies for an industry lobby group and international maneuvers designed to prevent the United Nations from adding Chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention toxic export warning list.

“I believe asbestos is Canada’s greatest shame on the international stage because we not only export asbestos, but also subsidize and promote the production and export of this serial killer asbestos, of which sadly, India is the number one buyer,” Martin told India Abroad in 2009.

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour news for The Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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