Saskatchewan anti-asbestos advocate applauds Ottawa's plan to ban material

A man who pushed for the Canada's first asbestos registry in Saskatchewan is applauding the federal government's plan to ban the material by 2018.

Jesse Todd's stepfather died from cancer after asbestos exposure

The federal government's plan includes changes to national building codes to prohibit the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects across Canada. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A man who pushed for the Canada's first asbestos registry in Saskatchewan is applauding the federal government's plan to ban the material by 2018.

"Finally. I'm glad this day has come," said Jesse Todd, chair of the Saskatchewan Asbestos Awareness Organization.
Jesse Todd travelled to Ottawa to witness the federal government's announcement of its plan to ban asbestos.

Todd travelled to Ottawa to see the announcement in person.

"It's not just a singular approach. They are taking an all-government approach that's being included with four different ministries in the government."

Todd's stepfather Howard Willems died from mesothelioma which was caused by asbestos exposure. Todd and Willems lobbied for the asbestos registry for provincially-owned buildings in Saskatchewan.

Willems worked as a building inspector for more than 30 years. The Saskatoon man died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 59.

He died one year before the law he inspired was passed in the legislature.

Saskatchewan leading the way

Todd is hoping the federal government plan can motivate all provinces and territories to follow suit.

As of now, Saskatchewan is the lone province with an asbestos registry

"We'd like to see other provinces adopt their own registries as well, in order to protect workers and innocent bystanders as well," Todd said.

In November, Saskatoon West NDP MP Sheri Benson tabled a private member's bill to ban all asbestos products in Canada.

Howard Willems died in 2012 from mesothelioma which was caused by asbestos exposure. (CBC)
On Thursday, Benson gave the government credit for putting bans in place. She said economic barriers may have prevented this from happening earlier.

"At one time we had communities in Quebec that counted on asbestos, the exporting and mining of asbestos for their economy. We stopped mining asbestos in 2012," said Benson.

Asbestos has been banned in some 50 countries. More than 2,000 Canadian workers will die of asbestos-related diseases this year.

"It's unfortunate many people have been exposed. many people have been walking around thinking we had already banned asbestos when we hadn't," Benson said.

Asbestos is a heat-resistant fibrous mineral that can be woven into fabrics, used in fire-resistant and insulating materials.

According to Health Canada, asbestos has health risks only when fibres are present in the air.

Saskatchewan government reacts

Saskatchewan Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Don Morgan said the federal government consulted with his ministry about how the province developed its asbestos registry.

"We have not had a chance to review the details of the federal government's recent announcement," Morgan said.

About 90 staff members of the Ministry of Labour were evacuated from offices at 1870 Albert St. in Regina in February. (CBC News)
"We are well aware the dangers of asbestos exposure, and support efforts to strengthen rules that protect workers and the public"

In February, a downtown Regina office building was evacuated after an asbestos scare. 

Workers who were repairing a leak cut through a drain pipe. It was determined the pipe contained asbestos. The work had been done days before the evacuation. Tests on the air came out negative.

At the time, Jesse Todd said the government's asbestos registry contained a loophole. The building was not included in the province's registry because it is a private property. That was despite the fact the ministry of labour leases part of the building.

Ironically, it is also where Todd and the Saskatchewan Asbestos Advisory Committee meet to advise the province on the dangers of asbestos.

When asked about this alleged loophole on Thursday, Morgan said even though "private properties are outside of this legislation, building owners must identify and manage asbestos in their buildings."

"There absolutely is a requirement that private property owners divulge information about asbestos in their building under OHS [occupational health and safety] legislation," Morgan said.

With files from Julie Ireton