Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Harper Government's Legacy of Death

Checking my blog archive, I found that I have written a total of 22 posts on asbestos. Here is number 23.

Two years ago, Canada was the sole nation to oppose adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous products under the Rotterdam Convention. Such a listing would not have banned the export of the deadly substance, but would have required proper labelling and explicit instructions as to its safe handling. Such labelling would have enabled

developing countries — where asbestos and most hazardous substances are shipped nowadays — to be informed of the dangers. They thus have the right to refuse the product or, at least, have a better chance of protecting their population from harm.

At the time, the Harperites hypocritically insisted that it was a safe substance (even though, of course, it is listed in Canada as a hazardous substance) if handled properly, but then prevented the possibility of safe handling by preventing its inclusion under Annex 111 of the Rotterdam Convention.

The government's rationale for its immoral act was both chilling and mercenary:

"This government will not put Canadian industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where sale is permitted," Harper said.

As reported in today's Star, this week the Rotterdam Convention will meet in Geneva, and this time, when the vote is called to place chysotile asbestos on the convention’s list of hazardous substances, Canada will not oppose it.

Has the Harper government experienced an epiphany? Hardly. Since the Parti Quebecois cancelled a $58 million loan to Canada’s last asbestos mine, the Jeffrey Mine, it will not reopen, effectively ending Canada's export of death and disease. It is noteworthy, however, that the Harper regime will be graceless and petty to the end. Instead of voting to add chrysotile to the list of hazardous materials, it will remain silent.

Not that it really will make any difference one way or the other. Unlike two years ago, when Canada was single-handedly responsible for the substance's exclusion from Annex 111, this year Russia, the world’s biggest asbestos exporter, and Zimbabwe, attending for the first time and eager to reopen its asbestos mines and resume asbestos exports, will play the spoiler roles in preventing its proper labelling.

So Canada must bear the exclusive responsibility for the ongoing suffering, disease and death that is chrysotile's legacy. While I'm sure Harper and his many disciples will not lose any sleep over this ugly and immoral truth, those of us with any semblance of humanity just might.


  1. There are consequences for this kind of behaviour, Lorne.

    It is no accident that the UN will consider transferring ICAO from Montreal to the Middle East.

  2. That was my same thought when I first read about the ICAO initiative, Owen. Hardly a surprise given Harper's behaviour in the Middle East.