For many Canadians this years Canada day will be one of embarrassment and disbelief as they grapple with the Canadian governments opposition to listing of chrysotile, white asbestos, as a hazardous substance on a United Nations Treaty called the Rotterdam Convention. Because the convention relies on consensus, there will be no warning to the mostly developing countries who still import Canadian asbestos (primarily to make concrete).
Pat Martin, a member of the New Democratic Party, summed up many Canadians' feelings last week in parliament when he said “Our position is morally and ethically reprehensible”.
Canada refused to give any reason for blocking the recommendation to put chrysotile asbestos on the list. Although Canada said that it agreed with the scientific work of the Chemical Review Committee, and that chrysotile (white) asbestos meets the criteria for listing, it failed to give a reason as to why it opposed the listing.
The hypocrisy of the Canadian government does not go unnoticed in Canada. As reported in the Global Post on June 28th 2011: “Critics describe the Canadian government’s position as grossly hypocritical. They note the government is spending tens of millions of dollars to remove asbestos from public buildings, including schools and the Parliament buildings. Even 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa — the official residence of the prime minister — is being stripped of asbestos. If Harper doesn’t believe it is safe for him and his family to live with the stuff, why would he oppose warning families in developing countries about its dangers?”
Opposition to the listing of chrysotile was strongly opposed by other governments. Australia - supported by the African Group - introduced a declaration by the European Union and 66 countries stating that, in their trade practices, they will make every attempt to make information regarding asbestos hazards known. This Declaration also states the countries’ intent to ensure asbestos is ultimately listed in Annex III. While the declaration is external to the United Nations Convention itself, its existence is noted in the formal meeting report.
For Canada Day 2011 please send a message to Canadian Prime Minister Harper
The Canadian High Commission in Canberra
Canberra ACT 2600
“Dear Prime Minster Harper
It is with regret that I write to you. At the recent Conference of the Parties for the United Nations Rotterdam Convention, the Canadian government opposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. Your government did not oppose the scientific criteria for the listing of a substance or give reasons for your opposition. It has been widely reported that the Prime Ministers official residence in Ottawa is being stripped of asbestos containing materials. The health of citizens of India and other developing countries is no less important than the health of Canadians. The World Health Organisation estimates 100,000 asbestos related deaths a year. This is too many --- so please stop this deadly trade and inform the world of the hazards of asbestos.”