Mine is a pretty sensible country, just like our stereotype, but not always. A key example is our bizarre asbestos industry.
Asbestos is nasty shit: "All forms of asbestos," says Leslie Stayner, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, "cause both mesothelioma and lung cancer." Anytime asbestos is discovered in old construction here in Canada, the location is shut down for thorough removal of the mineral. Numerous countries around the world have banned use of the substance outright.
Yet in a few Quebec towns, asbestos mining continues, supporting about 500 jobs and bringing in about $100 million a year. (My wife visited one of those towns, Thetford Mines, on a French exchange when she was a kid and the industry was larger.) Since it's illegal to use here, our asbestos gets shipped overseas, to India, Indonesia, Thailand, and elsewhere where it's still permitted. There, it presumably kills people by giving them cancer.
The puzzling thing is that the Canadian government acts like it's still the 1940s, arguing that the form of asbestos we mine and sell, called chrysotile, can be handled and used safely. Perhaps it can, though it seems unlikely—plus I highly doubt construction projects in developing countries do so anyway.
Even our erudite new Leader of the Opposition, Michael Ignatieff, seems to have been cowed by the asbestos lobby, moving from a strong anti-asbestos position a couple of months ago to a "we need more research" stance. Yet we've known for decades that the stuff is a substantial, carcinogenic health hazard in all its forms.
It's sad to say, but if Canada's asbestos industry were anywhere other than Quebec, it probably would have shut down years ago, especially since it is now such a small part of our economy. Continued support from our two major federal parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, seems to me a cynical political move, to avoid offending Quebec nationalists and the chrysotile lobby based in that province.
So one of our long-simmering domestic political quagmires keeps us selling a toxic mineral to the developing world. Not very sensible.
Labels: canada, cancer, controversy, environment, linkbait, politics