Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Canada in the Dock

WARNING SIGNS New badge alerts to Asbestos danger,
and (below) calcified Pleural Plaque, such as appear in
the lungs of people exposed to asbestos, and are
frequntly sign of mesothelioma to come.

ASBESTOS is one of those things we nowadays know is dangerous
(though some journalists purport to doubt it, I'd be curious to see whether they'd expose themselves to the risk to prove their point). Most of us probably assume that THEY (governments and people with responsibilty generally) are doing whatever they can to remove the danger.

On that we'd be mistaken.

At events last week for Mesothelioma Day, like the one I attended in London, we heard about people left exposed to the risk and often working without adequate protective gear, in countries like India and China. Canada was given a special mention, as a developed country whose government has taken steps against asbestos use at home but is willingly exporting the material.

On June 29, just one week before Action Mesothelioma Day (AMD) the Quebec Government announced that funding of $58 million had been provided for businessmen developing a new asbestos underground mine in the town of Asbestos, Quebec.

It so happened that organisers of the AMD event in MANCHESTER had invited Canadian Ban Asbestos Campaigner Kathleen Ruff to speak ( that is her in the centre of this clearly well-attended Manchester meeting). Kathleen explained the background to the Quebec provincial authorities' decision to hand over taxpayers' money for the asbestos scheme. Jason Addy reported that most of the delegates in Manchester were shocked by the news that the Province of Quebec was providing the bulk of the money for developing and operating the new mine. “It was interesting to see,” he said “how the initial response of surprise quickly became outrage as Kathleen explained the political machinations and financial tactics of Canadian asbestos stakeholders like Bernard Coulombe and Baljit Chadha.”

Knowing that most of Britain's asbestos fatalities had been exposed to Canadian asbestos, the people in Manchester were appalled at the thought that the lives of millions of people in developing countries would be endangered by Canadian asbestos for generations to come.

In LIVERPOOL, Laurie Kazan-Allen told the AMD meeting of the Cheshire and Merseyside Asbestos Victim Support Groups that Canada had run out of asbestos. " Instead of letting this toxic industry die a natural death, government funds have been injected into a financially-suspect and morally bankrupt scheme to construct new mining facilities in Quebec.” Naming names, she showed a photograph of Baljit Chadha, the man heading up the international consortium backing the Jeffrey Mine project and said:

“Let me conclude my remarks today by sending a message to Canada's asbestos businessmen; and I mean you Baljit Chadha and your investors, all of whom prefer to remain in the shadows. Be warned and be on your guard; the people of Merseyside and Cheshire are not done with you. We are as one when we say we will not allow you to profit while others die. You may have convinced Quebec's asbestos cabal to fund your dastardly project but that was just the first battle. The war over the new Jeffrey Asbestos Mine continues. This is NOT over!”

As a Salford lad with friends among the Liverpool dockers I know the amount of trade the North West used to have with Canada; and the strength the dockers used to have to act on behalf of working people on matters of principal, let alone when facing dangerous cargoes. We might reflect on how far we have all been set back by the way that strength was undermined. Hopefully my union, and the people of Merseyside and Cheshire, will see the advantage of muscle being regained.

As it is, our ability to act even through legal channels is being attacked. Once again we can see the link between health and safety and our democratic rights. As Laurie Kazan-Allen explains:

"From the discussions in Liverpool, it was crystal clear how important the assistance provided by teams at the Merseyside Asbestos Victim Support Group and the Cheshire Asbestos Victim Support Group had been to asbestos sufferers. Unfortunately, the existence of these and other UK groups has been put in jeopardy by impending reforms under The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. With the country's asbestos epidemic in full swing, all attempts to curtail the essential work of these groups must be strenuously resisted."

Reports on AMD from:

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