Montreal

Anti-asbestos activists meet Que. minister

Anti-asbestos activists from Asia brought their message to Quebec's minister of economic development Thursday.

Group travelled from Asia to protest mineral's export

Anti-asbestos activists from Asia make their case to the Quebec government Thursday. ((CBC))
Anti-asbestos activists from Asia brought their message to Quebec's minister of economic development Thursday.

The group met with Clément Gignac, hoping to persuade him not to provide financial support for a Quebec asbestos mine.

The Charest government is considering a $58-million loan guarantee to an Indian consortium that wants to reopen the Jeffrey mine near Asbestos Que., north of Sherbrooke. But the Asian delegation is asking the government to do otherwise.

"Millions of workers in the developing countries are going to be exposed to the asbestos which is being exported from Canada," said union activist Anup Srivastava from India.

Of 13 original mines there is only one left in operation in Quebec extracting the cancer-causing mineral. Once valued for its heat resistance, flexibility and insulation properties, it is banned in many parts of the world, including the European Union.

Canadian asbestos producers have argued they will export the material only to countries that agree to use it safely. But critics say that, despite those promises, workers in those countries are unsafely exposed to asbestos frequently.

Health or economy

Srivastava says global trade unions agree that the cancer-causing mineral has to be banned, while Quebec unions are not interested in helping.

He says they're focused on the fact that the project would create up to 500 jobs and produce exports for another 25 years.

Of 13 original mines there is now only one left in operation in Quebec extracting the cancer-causing mineral. ((CBC))
The economic development minister says he'll consider arguments from the activists.

"We have not taken a decision yet, but no doubt that we will be very severe regarding any decision," said Gignac.

He said government would have to perform annual safety audits to make sure that countries using the mineral are using the same standards used here.

The delegation from India, Japan, Indonesia and Korea had hoped to meet with Premier Jean Charest, but Charest refused their request.

Kathleen Ruff, a human rights adviser at the Rideau Institute, said it's unacceptable that both Charest and Prime Minister Stephen Harper continue to defend the asbestos industry.

"It's inexcusable on the level of science, and inexcusable on the level of humanity. The only reason is politics, that they want to win the seat where the asbestos mine is located," she said.

With files from the CBC's Dan Halton and Elias Abboud