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Canary in the Mine Trailer: Revealing Truths about the Canadian Asbestos Industry

Length: 2:07

“When workers complained they could see the fibers in the air, it was remedied by darkening the windows so the sunlight would not hit the fibers.”

Watch this 2-minute trailer of Canary in the Mine, a short documentary that reveals the personal and political ramifications of one of Canada’s most controversial industries: the mining and exportation of Chrysotile asbestos.

The documentary in its entirety will be released and sent to film festivals soon.

Pressure to Regulate Chrysotile Asbestos Ramped up at United Nations Meeting

Representatives from the 143 countries in the United Nations are in the process of meeting in Geneva to discuss potential regulations for chrysotile asbestos, which is most notably mined in Quebec, Canada, reports the Montreal Gazette.

According to the news source, the specific type of asbestos is currently banned in the entire 27-country European Union, as well as Australia. Use of the substance is also substantially regulated in countries such as Chile.

This year, the material could become regulated in countries like Canada, one of its main exporters, as a number of health officials have written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper supporting the Rotterdam Convention‘s chemical review committee’s recommendation that the substance become listed in Annex 3.

According to the website for the convention, chemicals that are listed in Annex 3 “include pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by parties.”

Carcinogenic Properties Concern Health Officials

The major reason why health officials in Canada are encouraging the Prime Minister to take action towards at least regulating chrysotile asbestos is that the carcinogenic substance has been proven to cause a range of serious illnesses.

In fact, in the letter itself, the 48 Quebec doctors point out that “there is general consensus among the scientific community that all types of asbestos fibers are carcinogenic… and can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma when inhaled.”

Malignant mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer, attacks the tissues surrounding the majority of the body’s internal organs.

In total, asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 107,000 people around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Doctors’ Recommendations Go Beyond Politics

While these diseases are very real, Canada has remained steadfast in arguing that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely in materials such as cement as long as the fibers themselves are sealed.

However, recent research conducted by Britain’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington suggested that “on the evidence available, there is no justification for an imminent change to the international scientific consensus on the classification of chrysotile as a Class 1 carcinogen,” according to the news source.

Additionally, the Quebec doctors say in the letter to Prime Minister Harper that the recommendation to put the substance into the Rotterdam Convention was also made by 31 “neutral scientific experts.”

“The whole medical and independent scientific community in Quebec, Canada and internationally is unanimous,” the letter states.

Canadian Prime Minister Attacked for Asbestos Promotion

stephen harperPrime Minister Stephen Harper is holding his second rally in Asbestos, Quebec today, seeking votes by promoting himself as the political leader most dedicated to the asbestos industry. Over twenty health, union and environmental organizations have responded in an open letter urging Harper to end his support for the asbestos trade.

April 26, 2011

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

We urge you to put people’s lives ahead of politics. Please end your support for the deadly asbestos trade.

Canada’s leading medical authorities have all told you that Canada’s export of asbestos is medically and morally indefensible and will lead to an epidemic of asbestos-related disease and death overseas.

We are shocked and dismayed that you are denying the clear scientific evidence and instead are supporting a plan to revive Canada’s bankrupt, dying and deadly asbestos industry.

Public policy should be based on science, not politics. The science is indisputable that all asbestos is deadly. Not a single reputable authority supports your claim that chrysotile asbestos (which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade) can be safely used.

Canada is becoming known as an immoral asbestos pusher and as an enemy of global public health. This is not the role Canadians want to play in the world. This does not reflect Canadian values.

We are appalled that, in order to protect the asbestos industry, you have publicly promised to block the upcoming Conference of the U.N. Environmental Convention (Rotterdam Convention) so as to prevent chrysotile asbestos being listed as a hazardous substance. Chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance under Canadian law. It is, in our opinion, hypocritical and contemptuous of the lives of people in the developing world to prevent them from being provided with this critical information, as if their lives were less worthy of protection.

It is with sorrow and shame that we note that Canada is becoming a pariah on the international stage for its obstruction of global efforts to protect health, human rights and the environment.

Prime Minister Harper, you are the only national leader in Canada and in the Western world to promote asbestos. At the same time, Canadian taxpayers are paying millions of dollars to remove asbestos from your official residence and your place of work, the Parliament Buildings, in order to protect you and other Canadian politicians from being harmed by exposure to asbestos.

This election is about trust and integrity. We urgently call on you to show integrity. We ask you to:

Respect the science
Put human life ahead of partisan political interests
Support a ban on asbestos and the provision of transition assistance to the last remaining asbestos miners and their community
Support the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention
Adopt a comprehensive strategy to address Canada’s asbestos disease crisis

We request a response from you. Please do not, as usually happens, forward our letter to Christian Paradis, the Minister of Natural Resources, who is an avid supporter of the asbestos industry and simply puts forward its discredited position.

We urgently await your response on this critical ethical issue.


Kathleen Ruff
Senior human rights adviser, Rideau Institute



Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
Nature Québec
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Canada
Sierra Club Canada
International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada
Maîtres chez nous-21e siècle, Québec
Syndicat des débardeurs de Montréal, SCFP Section locale 375
British Columbia & Yukon Territory Building & Construction Trades Council
Prevent Cancer Now
Atlantic Coast District, International Longshoremen’s Association
Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims
MiningWatch Canada
Asbestos-related Research, Education and Advocacy Fund
Boilermakers Lodge 359
Sheet Metal Local 280
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union Local #2 BC
BC Ferry & Marine Worker’s Union
IBEW Local 993, Northern B.C. & Yukon
I L A, Local 1657,  Montréal
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115


1) Reputable Scientific Organisations that Oppose your position on chrysotile asbestos:

The Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association of Canada
The Quebec Medical Association
The Canadian Public Health Association
The Quebec Association for Public Health
The Quebec Association of Physicians Specializing in Community Health
The Lung Association of Quebec
The National Specialty Society for Community Medicine
The National Public Health Institute of Quebec
The Quebec Association for Occupational Hygiene, Health & Safety
All the Quebec government’s sixteen regional Directors of Public Health
The Quebec College of Physicians
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
The Quebec College of Family Physicians
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The International Social Security Association
The International Labour Organization
The International Commission on Occupational Health
The World Health Organization

2) Reputable Scientific Organisations that Support your position on chrysotile asbestos:



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