Canadian government and Quebec government health expert supporting efforts to ban asbestos in Asia

Mon, Jul 24, 2017


Kathleen Ruff,, July 24, 2017

Harriet Roos, First Secretary (Development) , Embassy of Canada in Vietnam, and Quebec public health expert, Dr. Yv Bonnier Viger, made presentations at an historic workshop held in Hanoi, Vietnam on July 21, 2017. The workshop, attended by more than 80 participants from government Ministries, trade unions, media and civil society, addressed the harm to health caused by chrysotile asbestos and the need for urgent action to ban chrysotile asbestos in Vietnam.

Chrysotile asbestos represents 100% of the global asbestos trade. Because of the indisputable scientific evidence that chrysotile asbestos causes deadly diseases and creates huge economic costs to any country using it, over 90% of the world’s countries have banned or virtually stopped using asbestos.

Russia and Kazakhstan, the two major asbestos exporting countries, are desperately using every measure possible, including bullying, intimidation and fraudulent tactics, to protect their profits and keep exporting chrysotile asbestos to Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, India and the small number of other countries still importing asbestos.

The asbestos workshop received major coverage in the Vietnamese media and was hosted by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and supported by Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Australian Government Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) and a range of international organisations including Right On Canada, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), Asia Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN), Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) and Solidar Suisse.

The Vice President of the VGCL, Mr Mai Duc Chinh, made a strong call for Vietnam to move forward with a roadmap to ban chrysotile asbestos by 2020.

From July 10 to 14, Dr. Bonnier Viger was one of the presenters at a 5 day training session in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Fifty participants from 13 government Ministries, as well as representatives from trade unions and employers, participated in an intensive capacity-building workshop addressing asbestos hazards, understanding asbestos related diseases, mapping asbestos use in Cambodia and actions needed to eliminate the cancers and other diseases associated with asbestos.

The training, organized by Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training with the support of Union Aid Abroad APHEDA (Australia), aimed to also assist members of the National Asbestos Profile Working Group and labour inspectors develop clear evidenced based understanding on asbestos related issues.

Meanwhile, the asbestos lobby continues to disseminate its deadly misinformation promoting the use of chrysotile asbestos.

Landmark change in Government of Canada’s international asbestos policy

For decades, the Canadian government has been the leading country promoting the export of chrysotile asbestos to Asia, the last region of the world which continues to import significant quantities of asbestos.

In May 2017, for the first time, the Canadian government supported the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN Rotterdam Convention. Now, for the first time, the Canadian government is speaking up in Asia in support of efforts by health experts, trade unionists, health activists and asbestos victims to ban asbestos.

Although this comes decades too late, Canadians will be glad that Canada’s ugly asbestos role, that has caused so much harm to populations around the world, is finally ending.

Dr Bonnier Viger, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University and Regional Public Health Director for Gaspésie-les-Îles, Quebec, has over the past few weeks made presentations putting forward the scientific evidence, underlining Canada’s decision to ban asbestos and calling for a global ban on asbestos at events in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

He will be speaking to trade unionists, labour and other civil society organization organisations, occupational health doctors, medical students, health and safety practitioners and members of the Indonesia Ban Asbestos Network at events in Indonesia from July 26-28, 2017 on Lessons learned from Canada: Organizing the movement to ban asbestos.

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Attendees at Asbestos Workshop in Cambodia, July 2017

Appeal to Canadian government to do more

Dr. Bonnier Viger called on the Canadian government to do more. In a message of July 21, 2017, he stated:

“Canada has been the leading supporter of the asbestos industry. From 1984 to 2012, the Canadian government financed the Chrysotile Institute. This Institute developed powerful arguments in favour of the use of chrysotile asbestos. These arguments, based on the deformation of scientific evidence and the fabrication of false science, are now being used by Russia and other asbestos producers to support the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos. The misinformation created by this strategy is very visible here in Vietnam.”

Noting the role that the government of Australia has undertaken to promote a ban on asbestos in Asia and globally, Dr. Bonnier Viger stated that the Canadian government could play a similar role on the international scene, thus providing tangible proof of Canada’s wish to correct its errors of the past.


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