Prime Minister Harper challenged to stop supporting asbestos lobby

Fri, Sep 30, 2011


September 29, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

You have stated that it is up to developing countries to decide whether to use asbestos. This omits, however, the fact that Canada plays a highly questionable role in sabotaging initiatives aimed at controlling or ending the use of asbestos in developing countries.

In June this year, Canada prevented the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN Rotterdam Convention, thus allowing continued uncontrolled sale of asbestos to developing countries, without any requirement to even inform of its dangers.

And at the present moment, Canada is implicated in sabotaging a proposal to ban asbestos, put forward by the Department of Occupational Safety & Health of Malaysia.

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 from the ban chrysotile asbestos (which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade).

It is feared that the proposed ban will be defeated due to the lobbying of APCO.

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.

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, which your government endorses and has funded.

The Quebec Corporate Registry lists Clément Godbout, president of the Chrysotile Institute, as the first Administrator of the International Chrysotile Association and gives the address of the Montreal Chrysotile Institute (1200 McGill College Avenue # 1640,

Montreal, Quebec).

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, Montreal, Quebec, which is the address of the Chrysotile Institute.

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.

Prime Minister Harper, your government has given over a million dollars of taxpayers’ money to the Chrysotile Institute over the past six years. Your government endorses the work of the Chrysotile Institute, even allowing them to use the official government of Canada logo on their publications promoting asbestos use – publications that reputable scientists have condemned as dangerous misinformation.

According to the Chrysotile Institute, representatives of the Quebec and federal governments are members of its Board of Directors.

It is, in our opinion, indefensible that your government has funded and endorses an organization that is covertly implicated in undermining the right to health and the democratic process in Malaysia and in crushing the efforts of public health professionals in Malaysia to ban asbestos.

What chance do public health professionals in developing countries have in their efforts to protect their people from asbestos harm, when faced by a powerful public relations company, such as APCO Worldwide, hired by the global asbestos lobby?

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.

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

We call on you to:

– Cancel any planned funding for the Chrysotile Institute

– End your government’s support for the Chrysotile Institute and, in particular, require that they remove the official emblem of the Government of Canada from their publications

– Apologize to the Malaysian Department of Occupational Safety & Health for the covert, improper interference in Malaysian public health policy by a global asbestos lobby organization, located in Canada and linked to the Chrysotile Institute, which your government endorses and has repeatedly funded

We request an immediate reply on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

DR FERNAND TURCOTTE, MD, Professeur émérite au département de médecine sociale et préventive, Faculté de Médecine, Université Laval, Québec, G1K 7P4*

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

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

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

DR COLIN L. SOSKOLNE, PhD, Professor, School of Public Health, University of Alberta; Immediate Past-President, Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics; Fellow, American College of Epidemiology; Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini*

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

DR JOHN O’CONNOR, MD, Family Physician; Health Director, Fort McKay First Nation, Alberta; advocate for the health of First Nations communities downstream of the Alberta Tarsands; board member, Safe Drinking Water Foundation, Alberta*

MEYER BROWNSTONE, Chair Emeritus of Oxfam Canada; Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Political economy, Ontario*

DR TEE L. GUIDOTTI, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Emeritus President of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

DR SADHANA PRASAD, MD, FRCP(c), Waterloo, Ontario

DR BRUCE P. LANPHEAR, MD, MPH, Professor of Children’s Environmental Health, BC Children’s Hospital, Simon Fraser University, BC*

DR L. DUNCAN SAUNDERS, MBBCh, PhD, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta*

DR SUSAN M. KENNEDY, PhD, Professor Emerita, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia; Founding Director, UBC School of Environmental Health; Founding President, Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health; Former Scientific Director, BC Environmental and Occupational Health Research Network, BC*

DR JOHN R. KEYSERLINGK, MD, MSc, FRCS , FACS, Surgical Oncologist, St Mary’s Hospital & Hôpital du Sacré Coeur; Director, Ville Marie Oncology Center, Montreal*

DR WARREN BELL, MD, former President, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, BC

DR CHRISTOPHER W. LEE, MD, FRCPC, Medical Oncologist, BC Cancer Agency, British Columbia*

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

* NOTE: Institutions named for identification purposes only

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One Response to “Prime Minister Harper challenged to stop supporting asbestos lobby”

  1. Raymond Sunstrum Says:

    This informative document indicating Canada’s support of such a hazardous substance (Chrysotile asbestos)despite the health hazards associated with it and using public funds to support it is outrageously disgusting in its disregard human rights and public safety. This appears to give off the very strong smell and offensive odour of government incompetence, coruption and greed at the highest levels in both Québec & Canada, under Jean Charest and Stephen Harper respectively, or otherwise.
    A most harmful production within Canada destined undoubtedly for use in the poorest countries of the world as though Canadians have no care or respect for their fellow human beings worldwide. All in the name of greed. Unregulated crass commercial exploitation at its worst, a “Made in Canada” product. Or, so it seems to me. Omigod! How greedy, unfeeling and stupid can politicians such as these two be!

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