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This article was published 20/8/2009 (4250 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- A Winnipeg MP who has battled for years to get Canada to shut down the asbestos industry hopes the final nail in the coffin came this week from Canada's doctors.
Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin said he got "choked up" when he heard the Canadian Medical Association had voted 95 per cent in favour of a motion calling on Canada to change its tune about chrysotile asbestos.
"This may be the tipping point that brings some sanity to Canada's shameful asbestos policies," Martin said Thursday.
The CMA resolution calls for Canada to reverse its opposition to an international designation of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical, eliminate the use and export of asbestos within and from Canada, and support the proper management of asbestos including remediation.
The motion came up for debate at the CMA annual conference in Saskatchewan.
Dr. Kapil Khatter, an Ottawa family doctor and head of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said he believes this is the first time such a motion has been passed by the CMA.
"There really isn't any evidence it is being used safely or that it can be," said Khatter.
Both Khatter and Martin said there is a lot of international pressure on Canada to change its asbestos policies.
"Canada is an international pariah for their shameful policy of promoting and subsidizing the asbestos industry," said Martin.
Canada is one of the world's largest producers of asbestos and 90 per cent of it is exported, mostly to developing nations where it is used in cement products. Because of the health hazards, asbestos is used in very few products in Canada and its use is severely restricted.
Ottawa is spending millions to remove it right now from the Parliament Buildings.
Canada argues that chrysotile asbestos is a safer form than other types and as long as it is encased in products like cement, it isn't harmful.
It's only harmful when the fibres become airborne.
However Khatter said once it is in a product, it is impossible to know what will happen to that product and how it will be cut.
Anti-asbestos lobbyists fear the lack of health and safety regulations for workers in much of the developed world leave them greatly exposed when working with asbestos products.
Most of the developed world has banned asbestos completely including the United Kingdom, European Union, Australia and New Zealand. The World Health Organization has labelled it a carcinogen.
Canada has long ignored calls to stop mining and exporting the product and some, including Martin, think that stance has more to do with national politics than good policy.
The only remaining asbestos mine is in Quebec. It only employs a few hundred people but no federal government can win a majority government without Quebec and few politicians want to do something that might anger Quebec voters.
But Khatter said he thinks a poll would show most voters in Quebec would not support the industry any longer.
He said it's also becoming economically unviable and he believes one way or the other, the asbestos industry in Canada is on its way out.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said there will be no change in Canada's position.
"Canada stands by its position that the policy of controlled use is well founded because it has a sound scientific basis and is a responsible approach."