Canada’s continuing asbestos scandal: science denied, workers exposed to harm
the Hill Times
28 July 2014
SMITHERS, B.C.—Asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in Canada. A study of workplace death statistics by The Globe and Mail from 2007 to 2012 shows asbestos as the largest cause of workplace deaths throughout Canada. Labour Minister Kellie Leitch is responsible for the workplace health and safety of about 1.5 million workers under federal jurisdiction, such as railways, shipping, pipelines, mining, and government employees.
Canada and all provinces regulate the use of and exposure to asbestos by workers. Recent changes brought in by the federal government make it harder for federal workers to refuse hazardous work and give Leitch authority to dismiss an unsafe work refusal complaint without investigation. Unions are challenging these changes, expressing concern, in particular, about worker exposure to asbestos.
As well as being Labour Minister, Leitch is a medical doctor and a University of Toronto associate professor of surgery. Leitch is a Cabinet minister in a government that supports the use of asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos represents 95 per cent of all asbestos ever used.
Canada and Ontario have adopted the policy of “safe controlled use” of asbestos—allowing its sale, export, and use if it can be safely stored and maintained. Critics of the policy say nothing is truly safe from mishap and the countries to which Canada allows the export of asbestos do not have the regulatory or policing required to safely control its use.
Medical authorities, such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the World Health Organization, condemn the government’s position as deadly misinformation. They repeatedly state there is no safe exposure level to asbestos and that all use of asbestos must stop in order to prevent continuing asbestos-related deaths, such as Canada and all countries that used asbestos in the past are presently experiencing.
Leitch’s medical peers have directly asked her government to stop supporting asbestos. More than 200 doctors and health professionals challenged Leitch to respect the scientific evidence and put her ethical duty ahead of political ambition. Leitch did not respond. Nor did she respond to letters from asbestos victims, questions from The Medical Post, or questions in the House of Commons.
When interviewed by The Globe and Mail, Leitch said that exposure to asbestos had not come up as a concern since Harper appointed her minister of Labour, evading the fact that, over the past three years, she has received repeated appeals to stop supporting asbestos.
Leitch’s response renders her unfit, in my opinion, to be in charge of the health and safety of Canadian workers.
The Harper government says it provides accurate information on asbestos risk and that it has “consistently acted to protect Canadians from the health risks of asbestos.” Both these statements are utterly untrue. The Harper government is endangering the health of Canadians by disseminating inaccurate information about asbestos risk, by allowing continued import of millions of dollars worth of asbestos-containing products into Canada every year and by opposing health regulations, both in Canada and internationally, that would provide minimal safety measures regarding asbestos.
The Canadian Cancer Society and other organizations wrote to then minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq in December 2009, noting that exposure to asbestos is the single biggest cause of worker death across Canada and that Aglukkaq had a duty to address this “terrible, continuing and preventable public health tragedy in our country.”
Like Leitch, Aglukkaq refused to take action.
The Canadian government is decades behind other Western governments in protecting its citizens from asbestos. It permits workers to be exposed to 10 times higher levels of asbestos fibres than that permitted by any Western country and 100 times higher than permitted by Germany and the Netherlands.
In Italy, an asbestos industrialist has recently been sentenced to 18 years in prison for causing a public health catastrophe of asbestos deaths. Yet the Harper government promotes the deadly deception that asbestos can be “safely used.”
During the 2011 election, Harper voiced his commitment not to protect Canadians from asbestos, but to protect the interests of the asbestos industry. His government strenuously opposed the 2011 decision of the newly elected Parti Québécois government to end Quebec’s asbestos industry by cancelling a $58-million government loan intended to revive the industry. According to the Harper government, taxpayers should have financed the industry when private enterprise refused to do so.
Thanks to the PQ decision, Canada no longer mines or exports asbestos to developing countries. But Harper continues to put his ideology ahead of scientific evidence and ahead of protecting health. Canadians will pay a terrible price as a consequence.
Kathleen Ruff is senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute. Since 2007 she has worked with health experts and asbestos victims in Canada and around the world for a global ban on asbestos.
Douglas J. Roche, O.C, Paul Meyer and Peggy Mason
July 16, 2014
Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is one of those recurring issues in Canadian security policy that reminds one of the hydra-headed monster featured in B horror flicks. Just when the hero seems to have dispatched the creature for good, it raises another ugly head.
Although there is a considerable record of previous Canadian governments considering the matter and deciding against official Canadian involvement in this peculiar American endeavour, the question seems to be revived periodically, as if there weren’t more pressing issues of foreign and security policy for our parliamentary institutions to consider.
This was the case with the latest study of the issue carried out by the Senate’s Committee on National Security and Defence, which culminated in its report of June 2014. The surprising conclusion of this report was the Committee’s unanimous recommendation that “the Government of Canada enter into an agreement with the United States to participate as a partner in ballistic missile defence.”
It is difficult to discern how the Committee came to this conclusion on the basis of the evidence heard in the course of its study, even though the witnesses invited to testify were primarily selected from pro-BMD circles. In the report some key assertions are made without substantiation and other relevant factors are simply ignored.
The impact of the U.S. BMD program on Russia and China is asserted to be benign, whereas this program and the refusal of Washington to negotiate any constraints on it has been a major impediment to progress in U.S.-Russia strategic nuclear arms reductions.
Similarly, while it is easy to declare, as the report does, that BMD is no threat to China’s strategic deterrent, it is not surprising that Beijing with its modest ICBM force considers the question differently, concerned as it should be with the potential of the expanding U.S. program to negate its retaliatory capacity. This in turn can have detrimental repercussions for other multilateral security initiatives, such as the long-delayed negotiation of a ban on fissile material production. China, for example, has to weigh the possibility of building up its offensive nuclear forces as a hedge against future BMD development.
The report’s treatment of the threat to Canada is very superficial, drawing largely from the exaggerated projections of North Korean and Iranian capabilities contained in the Rumsfeld Commission Report of 1998. There is no discussion of why Canada would be a target, if and when these countries develop an ICBM capability, or why any such rogue state would attack North America with a weapon that comes with a return address (as opposed to attacking with a cruise missile, or ship-borne bomb that could evade detection). The report muddles the distinction between U.S. national BMD and the theatre BMD programs being pursued via NATO despite the different impact of such defences for strategic stability.
The report is more balanced in its consideration of the technical feasibility of BMD, acknowledging the poor and deteriorating test record of the homeland BMD system and the fundamental problem of the system’s inability to discriminate between warheads and decoys or other so-called penetration aids that an adversary could readily deploy. In the absence of some technical miracle, the physics of outer space suggest that this basic failure to discriminate between objects eliminates any theoretical benefit that a BMD system might bring against an ICBM. Moreover, is it not highly irresponsible for political and military leaders to suggest to the public that such unproven systems would be able to protect the country from a nuclear strike?
The committee heard some well-worn arguments that Canada needed to participate in BMD to “preserve NORAD.” In our view this is a bogus line. NORAD’s existing missions are in the interests of both countries and it doesn’t require taking on a BMD mission (which even with Canadian involvement is far from certain given U.S. command preferences) in order to survive. The crucial issue of “opportunity cost” is overlooked in the report. Even if we assume the traditional cost-sharing for North American aerospace defence, an open question in light of new American defence budget constraints, Canada would be undertaking a major funding commitment by engaging in BMD. Given the pressing procurement demands faced by the Canadian military for new planes, ships and equipment that actually work and are in line with real world missions, would it be reasonable to divert millions to the dubious BMD enterprise? Of course south of the border there are political and commercial interests that are glad not to confuse the public with the facts when it comes to the enormous pork barrel that is BMD, but surely we are not obliged to replicate this boondoggle here.
Former member of Parliament and former Senator Douglas J. Roche, professor of international studies and fellow in international security at Simon Fraser University Paul Meyer, and Rideau Institute president Peggy Mason are three former Canadian ambassadors for disarmament.
For Immediate Release
June 26, 2014
Former UN Ambassador for Disarmament to Head Rideau Institute
(Ottawa) The Board of Directors is proud to announce that Ms. Peggy Mason, Canada’s former Ambassador for Disarmament to the United Nations, is the new President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs. Peggy Mason was elected President at a Directors’ meeting on June 18.
She succeeds Steven Staples, who had served in that role since founding the research and advocacy organization in 2006. He continues to serve on the Board and will lead fundraising and outreach initiatives.
Peggy Mason is an expert on the UN, disarmament, conflict resolution and NATO. As Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament, she worked with then External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, represented Canada at the UN disarmament forums in New York, and headed Canada’s delegation to disarmament treaty reviews in relation to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
A member of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament for six years, she has chaired UN expert studies on disarmament in Iraq and the regulation of small arms and light weapons.
Since 1996 Peggy Mason has increasingly focused on post-conflict peacebuilding and the role of military forces in supporting a comprehensive peace process. Ms. Mason works with several civil society organizations and initiatives, including civil society promotion of peace talks in Afghanistan.
A graduate and gold medallist of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Common Law, Peggy Mason was inducted into its Honour Society in September 2003.
The Rideau Institute is an independent research and advocacy group, based in Ottawa, which focuses on foreign policy and defence policy issues.
For more information contact Kathleen Walsh, Operations Coordinator, at 613 565-9449 ext 21.
Peggy Mason Biography
Peggy Mason’s career highlights diplomatic and specialist expertise in the field of international peace and security, with a particular emphasis on the United Nations, where she served as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament from 1989 to 1995.
Since 1996 Mason has been involved in many aspects of UN peacekeeping training, including the development of ground-breaking principles to guide the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters, reform of UN arms embargoes, and the dramatic evolution of UN peacekeeping in the 21st century.
As a regular trainer and exercise developer, she also brings the UN political/diplomatic perspective to a range of NATO and EU training exercises to help prepare military commanders for complex, multidisciplinary peace and crisis stabilization operations.
In 2000-2001, Mason was a Special Advisor to then Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) on Small Arms and Light Weapons control, and chaired the UN Governmental Experts Group study on the international regulation of small arms and light weapons.
From 2002 to 2012 Mason was a Senior Fellow at The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University, where she lectured, participated in training for Iraqi and Kuwaiti diplomats, and chaired the Advisory Board of the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC). Since 2004 she has been Chair of the Board of Directors of Peacebuild, a network of Canadian NGOs engaged in all aspects of peacebuilding.
A graduate and gold medallist of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Common Law, Peggy Mason was inducted into its Honour Society in September 2003.
For Immediate Release
June 9, 2014
Single-engine F-35 a bad choice for Canada’s Arctic, report finds
OTTAWA – A new report on the single-engine F-35 has just been released by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
One Dead Pilot was written by University of British Columbia political science professor Michael Byers, who recently won the $50,000 Donner Prize for his book International Law and the Arctic.
The report responds to the Harper government’s continued openness to the F-35 as a replacement for Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. With the exception of the F-35, all the aircraft currently under consideration have two engines.
As Professor Byers explains, this difference has significant safety implications, particularly for pilots operating over Canada’s Arctic and vast maritime zones: “A decision to purchase a single-engine fighter would almost inevitably result in the needless loss of Canadian pilots.”
Thirty-five years ago, the CF-18’s twin engines were a decisive factor in its selection over the single-engine F-16.
Today, the Harper government maintains that improvements in the reliability of engines mean that single-engine aircraft are just as safe as twin-engine aircraft.
Professor Byers’ report includes recent statistics from the U.S. Air Force Safety Center that disprove this assertion. The number of accidents leading to the loss of a pilot and/or aircraft remains significantly higher for single-engine fighter jets than for twin-engine fighter jets.
According to the report, the risks associated with a single-engine aircraft are compounded by Canada’s challenging geography – including the remote Arctic and the world’s longest coastline – as well as a near-broken search-and-rescue system. As Professor Byers explains, “A pilot forced to eject after a loss of power in the Arctic might have just a few hours to live.”
For more information contact:
Professor Michael Byers, University of British Columbia
c. 1-250-526-3001 e. firstname.lastname@example.org (Note: Professor Byers is in Ottawa June 9, 10 and 11)
Job posting: Student Summer Job – International Human Rights Project Coordinator
POSITION: International Human Rights Project Coordinator (Summer Job Posting)
Term: June 16 to August 29, 2014 (11 weeks)
The successful candidate will work to develop and support a public education campaign aimed at the community, Canadian citizens and policy-makers regarding human rights and armed conflict, especially focused on the risks and dangers civilians face in conflict around the world. Responsibilities will include: supporting educational outreach to the public through social media, direct mail, and the media.
• Was registered as a full-time student in a post-secondary institution during the preceding academic year and plans to return to school on a full-time basis during the next academic year.
• Has an interest current affairs or working in a non-profit organization.
• Possesses a good understanding of Canadian politics and the structure of government in Canada.
• Has experience working in a small office environment or within a project team.
• Ability to work with minimum supervision
• Thorough knowledge of the programs of the Microsoft Office Suite, especially Word, Excel, Access and Outlook
• Project management and coordination
• Good oral and writing communication skills in English
• Proficiency in French an asset
• Ability to prioritize and organize work effectively
• Strong interpersonal skills
N.B. This position may continue throughout the school year on a part-time basis. Candidates are encouraged to indicate if they would be available to devote one or two days per week during the school year.
Qualified applicants should submit their resume, by email, along with a covering letter and a writing sample to email@example.com.
Applications must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 6. Only those candidates selected for interviews will be contacted.
The Rideau Institute is committed to employment equity and encourages applications from all qualified applicants.