Canada keeping quiet at asbestos summit: activists
Published Wednesday, June 22, 2011 6:58AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:08AM EDT
OTTAWA - Activists are accusing Canada of hiding behind other exporters of chrysotile asbestos at a major international conference in Geneva.
Canada's delegation has kept quiet while countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine try to block the known carcinogen's inclusion on a list of hazardous chemicals.
Aneil Jaswal of the anti-asbestos group Cancer Culprits said that's a way to keep Canada's nose clean.
"They understand that if they speak up against it, they're going to get a lot of backlash at home," he said.
"Instead, they know that some of these countries ... the media and advocacy efforts there are not as strong. So these countries are willing to do the dirty work on behalf of Canada."
Delegates at this week's summit in Switzerland need consensus to place asbestos on a United Nations treaty called the Rotterdam Convention.
Doing so would mean recipient countries would need to be warned of any health hazards -- and they could reject asbestos imports if they didn't think they could handle the product safely.
Canada has twice before played a lead role in blocking the inclusion of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention.
But Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Canada is going to sit this one out and let other countries stop asbestos from getting on the list.
He said Canada won't take a position since other countries already oppose its inclusion. That scuttles any chance of asbestos making it on to the convention list.
"We haven't taken a position opposed to the inscription. We haven't, to my knowledge, there has been no position taken there," Oliver said Tuesday.
"The way it works at Rotterdam is that it's determined by consensus and if there are countries that oppose, then it won't happen. My understanding, and I'm not certain on this, but I understand that there are some countries that are in fact opposed. So the question is moot."
Government departments are keeping tight-lipped about what position Canada takes to Geneva. The governing Conservatives continues to claim that Canada's chrysotile asbestos can be used safely "under controlled conditions."
Former Conservative Cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, who was diagnosed with lung cancer as a result of inhaling asbestos fibres as a young man, has spoken out in favour of listing asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention.
He's not calling for a ban, but Strahl says he thinks countries should know about any health risks before they decide to import chrysotile asbestos.
Strahl told The Canadian Press on Tuesday he wasn't privy to Canada's tactics in Geneva. But he said often at these summits there is a lot of political horse-trading going on.
"There will be 100 countries there. All of them want something. And so, sometimes, these things end up in trade-offs as well, saying 'Well, we'll do this for you this time if you help me with this one next time,' and so on," Strahl said. "It's not straightforward and straight up."
He added: "Keeping your powder dry could well just be a good tactical move, too."