Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today visited the seat of Canadian asbestos production when he made a campaign stop in the town of Asbestos, Quebec. This small town is home to the infamous Jeffrey Mine, one of the largest asbestos operations in the world. Even though this known carcinogen has been banned for use in the country, Canada still exports the mineral to developing nations across the world – most of which do not have the appropriate measures in place to safely handle the material. As a result of this controversial approach to asbestos, The Globe and Mail described Harper’s visit by headlining an article: “Canada labeled ‘immoral asbestos pusher’ as Harper visits Quebec mining town.”
Harper used this stop to vocalize his support of the ailing industry. He has often stated that asbestos can be safely used and continuously downplays the health risks. Rather than further phasing out the asbestos industry, Canada instead recently approved a government-funded expansion of operations at the Jeffrey Mine. These actions all continue even after one of Harper’s own cabinet members, Chuck Strahl, has been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
Not surprisingly, this political play drew widespread criticism, including an open letter from environmental and union activists addressed to Harper. Rideau Institute member Kathleen Ruff wrote, “The science is indisputable that all asbestos is deadly. Not a single reputable authority supports your claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used,” in the letter written on behalf of more than 15 activist groups.
As shocking as this story is the fact that asbestos has yet to be banned in the United States. It is time to ban asbestos and put an end to this material’s legacy of hypocrisy and death.