Deadly Export

Would you live in a house insulated with asbestos?

I sure as hell wouldn’t. But, the official position of the Canadian government, past and present, is to support the asbestos industry and claim that asbestos can be perfectly safe if handled correctly. Of course, this is because Canada exports asbestos to poorer countries where safety isn’t the primary factor in choosing the dangerous product as a building material. It’s a longstanding piece of shameful, willful ignorance in the service of monetary gain.

The current government has gone so far as to threaten Michaela Keyserlingk, the widow of an asbestos victim and an outspoken critic of Canada’s policies on asbestos export. Keyserlingk has a website in which she tells the story of her husband’s death due to an asbestos-related cancer and gives information about asbestos and Canada’s role in the industry. She also has an active banner ad campaign that features the symbol of the Conservative Party of Canada, and that’s the rub; the Conservatives are upset that their logo is being used without permission, and are threatening to sue Keyserlingk if she doesn’t cease using it immediately.

I’m trying to figure out what’s more shameful: telling the world that asbestos isn’t really all that bad (because we want to make money off of it,) or threatening to sue a woman who’s activism is motivated by the fact her husband died from a disease related to this “safe” product.


This isn’t a partisan rant, like many of mine are probably construed.

Really, Canada is just an embarassment for having supporting the export of asbestos for all this time, and every party in Canada is equally guilty for their support throughout the years. This is quite simply a case of the government allowing, and even subsidizing, an industry to operate that should have been outlawed. We don’t build homes with asbestos anymore because the health risks are well documented. Yet, we’re perfectly comfortable profiting off of sales of asbestos to some developing nation far from our borders? We’re selling sickness. You can’t even call it negligence, because it’s a willful dismissal of known and acknowledged medical research. As Keyserlingk’s website declares, we are the only G8 nation still exporting asbestos, making money off of inflicting disease on poorer nations. And, rather than admitting that we are wrong, we make excuses to try and pretty it up.

Here’s where I will gladly blame the Conservatives, specifically.

According to the government of the day, asbestos is actually quite safe. See, Chrysotil asbestos is not as dangerous as Amphibole asbestos. Besides, if handled correctly, the risk from asbestos exposure is decreased dramatically.

Tell me something, does the woman in the picture below (borrowed from Keyserlingk’s website) look like she’s using OSHA approved protective gear?


Why would the government support the asbestos industry? Well, to begin with, asbestos is mined in Quebec. People are employed in the industry in Quebec. Federal parties vie for votes in the seat rich province of Quebec in every major election. The Conservatives were largely shut out of Quebec in the last election. Making Quebec happy is more likely to lead to votes than pissing them off.

Is the picture becoming clearer yet?

What should be happening is the immediate suspension of all Federal subsidies for the asbestos industry in Canada and immediate investigation into the creation of legislation outlawing the export of asbestos from Canada. I bet those assholes saying asbestos is safe wouldn’t be too willing to spend the next 20 years living in a home insulated with it. If it’s not safe for us, it isn’t safe for the people we sell it to, so the simple moral calculus seems to fall out that we simply shouldn’t be selling it.

But, the government wants to court voters.

It’s doubly shameful that the Conservative Party is threatening to sue Keyserlingk. To begin with, they don’t have much of a case, since she isn’t making any money off of the use of the logo. Regardless, it’s a blatant attempt to silence dissent, which is absolutely patently in keeping with the tactics of the Stephen Harper Conservatives. This is not the first time that the Conservatives use strong-arm tactics to silence opposition, and it likely won’t be the last. Using strong-arm tactics on a concerned widow is pretty pathetic, though.

This is an industry that should never have survived our own domestic refusal to use asbestos. Governments then and since should have recognized the hypocrisy of profiting from the export of a product that we, ourselves, would not use because of the health risks. We like to think Canada is such a moral, democratic and responsible example for the rest of the world, but things like this demonstrate how we’re not that much better than a lot of the nations we criticize. While we’re spending time touting tradition and pride in bringing back “Royal” to the navy and air force, preaching tough measures for those who don’t respect the safety and freedom of others while building jails, buying jets and ships to defend democracy around the globe and renouncing the barbarism of our enemies, we’re putting money in our pockets by giving some poor, underprivileged family overseas cancer.

And sueing the woman who speaks out against it.

Proud to be a Canadian?

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