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ST. JOHN’S—The Canadian Medical Association condemned the Conservative government for blocking asbestos from being listed as a hazardous substance around the world earlier this summer.
“I think this sends a strong message to the federal government that their unethical and shameful behaviour will not be tolerated by the physicians of Canada,” Dr. Barry Turchen of Abbotsford, B.C. told the annual gathering of the national body representing about 75,000 doctors on Wednesday.
Canada opposed the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in a United Nations treaty last June that would have forced exporters to warn importing countries of health hazards.
The Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus, would have also given recipient countries the freedom to refuse to allow the product to enter their borders if they did not believe they could handle it safely.
“This is an important health care issue and a product that causes significant illness and even death,” outgoing CMA president Dr. Jeff Turnbull told reporters in St. John’s on Wednesday. “Canada should not be in the business of exporting such a dangerous product.”
The motion came from doctors in Quebec, where the province is currently weighing whether to provide a government loan guarantee to revive the mine in Asbestos, Que., which is one of only two remaining asbestos operation in Canada.
The other is in Thetford Mines, Que.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre), who has led the anti-asbestos charge for his party, applauded the move and said Prime Minister Stephen Harper is isolating Canada on the world stage with his support for the dying industry.
“It’s a national disgrace, and he’s increasingly isolated and marginalized in his role as the world’s number 1 cheerleader for the asbestos cartel,” Martin wrote in an email Wednesday, adding that growing opposition to it “may be the tipping point toward common sense and reason on asbestos mining in Canada—or at least common decency.”
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was not available for comment Wednesday while he travelled with Harper in the Arctic, but a spokeswoman said the government has not changed its position.
“We promote the safe and controlled user of chrysotile,” press secretary Julie Di Mambro wrote in an email Wednesday.
The anti-asbestos lobby has set its sights on Kellie Leitch, the doctor turned Conservative MP (Simcoe—Grey) who they believe is bound by medical ethics to influence her caucus colleagues to end the asbestos industry in Canada.
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