Quebec Premier Jean Charest challenged to stop supporting asbestos lobby

Fri, Sep 30, 2011


September 29, 2011

Premier Jean Charest
Édifice Honoré-Mercier, 3e étage
835, boulevard René-Lévesque Est
Québec (Québec)

Dear Premier Charest,

The Department of Occupational Safety & Health in Malaysia has proposed a ban on all forms of asbestos in order to protect the health of the Malaysian population.[1] The Department held a consultation in March this year, at which a consensus was reached in support of the proposed ban.

However, a powerful public relations company, APCO Worldwide, has intervened on behalf of an undisclosed client to lobby to exclude chrysotile asbestos (which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade) from the ban.

It is feared that the ban proposed by the Malaysian Department of Occupational Safety & Health will be defeated by the lobbying of APCO, which has powerful political connections, having been awarded a multi-million contract to do public relations work for the Malaysian government.

APCO Worldwide is headquartered in Washington, DC in the US. It is notorious for its work for the tobacco industry, having been hired by Philip Morris to set up a front group, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, to prevent action on second-hand tobacco smoke.[2]

APCO has refused to disclose who hired it to work to defeat the proposed ban.

We are scandalized to discover that APCO’s undisclosed client is the International Chrysotile Association and to learn that this Association is, in fact, incorporated in Quebec and is closely linked to the Chrysotile Institute, the registered lobby group for the Quebec asbestos industry.

The Quebec Corporate Registry lists Clément Godbout, president of the Chrysotile Institute, as the first Administrator of the International Chrysotile Association and lists the address of the Montreal Chrysotile Institute (1200 Av Mcgill College # 1640,
Montréal, Québec).

The other listed administrators are asbestos industry representatives from Indonesia, Bolivia, Peru, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Vietnam, Brazil, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, India and Senegal.

In his submission to the Malaysian Department of Occupational Safety & Health, opposing the ban on chrysotile asbestos, Mr Bob Pigg, a long-time lobbyist for the asbestos industry, located in Arlington, Virginia in the US, identified himself as the Director General of the International Chrysotile Association and gave a phone number and an email address, which are those of the Chrysotile Institute.

Information published concerning businesses located in Montreal states that the location of the International Chrysotile Association is 1200 Av. McGill College # 1640, Montréal, Québec, which is the address of the Chrysotile Institute.[3]

The International Chrysotile Association is listed also as having an office at Thetford Mines, Quebec. The representatives of the Association, located at this office, refuse to provide any information about the Association, referring people to Mr Bob Pigg.

Premier Charest, your government has just given $ 200,000.00 to the Chrysotile Institute. According to the Chrysotile Institute, representatives of the Canadian and Quebec governments are members of its board of directors.[4]

It is, in our opinion, indefensible that your government has, over the past years, given millions of dollars of public funds to, and sits on the board of directors of an organisation that is covertly undermining the right to health and the democratic process in Malaysia and is crushing the efforts of public health professionals in Malaysia to protect their people from asbestos harm.

These are not the values of Québec. We believe that the great majority of Quebecers will, like ourselves, be deeply offended to learn that the Quebec government is connected to this covert interference to sabotage public health policy in Malaysia.

The Consumers Association of Penang has, since 2001, called for a complete ban on all forms of asbestos, due to the rising number of cases of asbestos-related diseases. In an Open Letter of June 24, 2011, the Association states: It is imperative that Malaysia joins this global campaign to ban the use of all types of asbestos and not bow to pressure by groups that place financial gains before public health.[5]

We are ashamed that the lobby group they refer to, which places financial gains before public health, is an association based in Quebec and linked to the Quebec government.

We call on you to:

– Immediately cancel the $ 200,000.00 of public funds given this year to the Chrysotile Institute

– Withdraw any participation of the government of Quebec on the board of directors, or any other function, of the Chrysotile Institute

– Apologize to the Malaysian Department of Occupational Safety & Health for the covert, improper interference in Malaysian public health policy by a global asbestos lobby organisation, located in Quebec and with connections to the Quebec government.

We request an immediate reply on this urgent matter.

DR FERNAND TURCOTTE, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Professor Emeritus of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Québec, G1K 7P4*


DR YV BONNIER VIGER, MD, on behalf of the Association des médecins spécialistes en santé communautaire du Québec

DR ÉRIC NOTEBAERT, M.D., MSc, CSPQ, on behalf of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

DR PIERRE GOSSELIN, MD, MPH, Professeur adjoint de clinique, Département de médecine sociale et préventive, Faculté de médecine, Université Laval, Québec*

DR ABBY LIPPMAN, PhD, Professor Emerita, Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Québec*

DR PIERRE L. AUGER, Md, Msc, FRCPC, Médecine du travail, Québec

DR PIERRE BIRON, MD, Professeur retraité de pharmacologie, Faculté de médecine, Université de Montréal, Québec*

DR JOHN KEYSERLINGK, MD, MSC, FRCS, FACS, Chirurgie en Oncologie, Centre hôpital de St-Mary, Hôpital général; Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur, Montréal; Directeur médical, Centre d’oncologie, Ville Marie, Québec*

DR ISABELLE GOUPIL-SORMANY, MD, FRCPC, CMFC, Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec; Chargée d’enseignement clinique, Université Laval*

DR PIERRE DESHAIES, MD, professeur de clinique, Faculté de médecine, Université Laval, Québec*

ANDRÉ PARADIS, President, Amnesty International Canada Francophone; former Director, la Ligue des droits et libertés (1986-2004); Prix Droits et Libertés 2006*

KATHLEEN RUFF, International co-coordinator, Rotterdam Convention Alliance; Senior human rights adviser, Rideau Institute; National Public Health Hero Award 2011, Canadian Public Health Association; author, Exporting Harm: How Canada markets asbestos to the developing world

* NOTE: Institutions named for identification purposes only

[4] “The Chrysotile Institute is directed by a Board of directors made up of industry, labour and government representatives.”;

[5] Consumer Association of Penang, Asbestos: Malaysia should make sure ban stays in place, June 24, 2011

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