Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/10/2009 (4185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- It was a tragic week on Parliament Hill. A 50-year-old father and grandfather died following an explosion in a steam plant that heats 52 buildings in downtown Ottawa, including the Parliament Buildings. The man suffered severe burns to more than half his body when a boiler suddenly exploded last Monday.
His death raised a number of health and safety questions about that particular plant, which is tucked into a river bluff right below the Supreme Court.
The incident also put a spotlight on another safety problem in Canada's parliament: asbestos.
When the boiler exploded, the debris it sent into the air was feared to include the tiny fibres which, when inhaled, cause any number of lung diseases, including rare fatal cancers. The plant's pipes were insulated with asbestos.
A hazardous materials team is still testing the air around the plant to see if there is a problem due to the asbestos.
It is yet another reminder of the dangers of asbestos, which has been mined in Canada for decades but has become an international pariah because of the dangers it poses.
Dozens of countries have banned its use but Canada continues to mine and export asbestos from one remaining mine in Quebec. Canada has also refused to allow asbestos to be added to an international list of toxic substances. Doing so wouldn't stop exports, but we'd have to warn importing countries that asbestos poses a serious health danger.
That is an important detail considering we mainly ship it to developing countries where labour codes and workplace safety regulations are sketchy at best.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last summer he will continue to support the mine in Quebec -- which is in a Conservative-held riding.
The feeling among anti-asbestos crusaders, such as Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin, is that consecutive Canadian governments have protected, promoted, and supported the asbestos industry solely because of Quebec politics and the fear of alienating Quebec voters in one, maybe two ridings.
One mine, with just a few hundred workers left, and we are risking the lives of millions in the developing world by exporting asbestos and refusing to even warn of its dangers.
The Harper government still argues that chrysotile asbestos, the form of the fibres mined in Quebec, is not as dangerous, and poses no risk if it is not disturbed.
Martin, whose political career has long focused on getting asbestos banned after he suffered lung damage from working in asbestos mines as a young adult, said that claim is ridiculous.
"That's like saying landmines are safe as long as you don't step on them," said Martin.
Martin has also long pointed out the hypocrisy of Canada spending millions to remove asbestos from the Parliament Buildings to ensure the health and safety of parliamentarians, while continuing to fund its production and export.
What is somewhat bizarre is the government will not release willingly the asbestos removal plan for Parliament.
Anti-asbestos crusader Kathleen Ruff this week was told she had to make an Access to Information request for the plan, which means the government can decide what parts of it are to be made public and spend months, if not years, to make those decisions.
One has to wonder if preventing this plan from going public might be because, by justifying spending millions to remove asbestos, the plan likely acknowledges asbestos does in fact pose a risk to human health, which would clearly prove the fallacy of the government's arguments to continue mining and exporting this deadly substance.
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It is said 70 per cent of Canadians need to get the H1N1 vaccination to stop the spread of the virus. With various polls showing as many as half of Canadians don't plan to get the shot, it's unlikely that will happen.
It is a huge problem for Canada's public health efforts to battle H1N1.
Yes it is true so far that the death rates from H1N1 are not near the death rates from the regular flu. But without being alarmist, there is plenty of reason to be concerned, particularly as those who are getting the most sick are younger and healthier than those most affected by regular flu. In Ottawa Sunday, a preteen girl died from H1N1, and she had no known health problems otherwise.
The country's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, was practically begging health workers to get the shot Friday.
The main issue seems to be a fear of the vaccine itself, uncertainty over its side effects, and concerns it was rushed to market with insufficient testing.
If Butler-Jones, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Prime Minister Stephen Harper truly believe in the safety of the vaccine and truly believe it's necessary, they should line up to get the shot and ensure images of them getting it are part of a widespread public relations campaign. That would be true leadership by example.