Mr Yvon Vallières,
National Assembly of Québec
With due respect this is with reference to Quebec government's role in giving $58 million financing to an anonymous consortium of foreign investors to open the Jeffrey mine to export 5 million tonnes of asbestos to India and other Asian countries over the next quarter century. India is one of the biggest consumers of asbestos mined in Quebec, a province of Canada although there is ban on asbestos mining in India. In India, Human Rights Commission has ruled that exposing human beings to asbestos fibers is an act human rights violation.
On behalf of Indian citizens, I wish to request you to persuade Quebec Premier, Jean Charest to listen to public health experts of the world and his own medical experts and not to finance a new generation of asbestos disease in India and other Asian countries. This brings unprecedented dishonor on Quebec in particular and Canada in general.
I wish to submit that the silence of National Assembly of Quebec in the matter of human rights violations due to exposure from Quebec asbestos is deafening.The time is now for the Quebec legislature to legislate a law that puts public health before blind lust for profit of the asbestos industry.
In the aftermath of the 26th Anniversary of World’s worst industrial disaster caused by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), a US company, I submit that in the US, Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of the UCC’s acquisition. There no such initiative by the Quebec and Indian asbestos companies although it is an established fact that asbestos is a known human carcinogen that claims more than 100,000 lives every year.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), representing 176 million workers in 151 countries have all called for an end to the use of any form of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade.
Amidst a growing demand for a global ban on all kinds of asbestos and its products, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), an alliance of occupational and environmental groups and public health researchers’ appeal to the Committee to recommend that ban on asbestos trade with Canada must be deemed a pre-condition for future negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). On November 16, 2010, Canadian Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan opened formal talks with our Union Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma on a strategic economic partnership between the two countries.
I submit that BANI which is working to make India asbestos free feels that Canada lost its place as a non-Permanent Member in the UN Security Council because it is fast losing its reputation as a civilized nation because of its position on asbestos trade among other reasons.
BANI is attempting to respond to the public health crisis in India due to trade in asbestos. There is an epidemic of incurable asbestos related diseases and India does not have the environmental and occupational health infrastructure to even diagnose the asbestos diseases.
While Canadian House of Commons is being decontaminated of asbestos, there is not a single building in India including the Indian Parliament which is asbestos free.
I wish to draw your attention towards the fact that a helicopter carrying the President of India hit an asbestos shed at the Bhubaneshwar airport, Orissa (a province in India) on December 9, 2009. The fact is that such asbestos sheds pose a health, environmental and occupational risk to everybody.
In 2006 alone there were more than 1,000 mesothelioma deaths (asbestos related fatal disease) in Japan which along with some 52 countries has banned asbestos. Some 10, 000 people are dying of asbestos related diseases in the US. Indians face and await a similar fate.
I wish to inform you that The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 is pending the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of the Indian Parliament). The issue of health hazards from asbestos has been raised consistently in the Indian Parliament.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced on 31 July 2009 captures clearly the global stand on this issue:
“The white asbestos is highly carcinogenic even the World Health Organisation has reported that it causes cancer. It is a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops and brake linings. More than fifty countries have already banned the use and import of white asbestos. Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically. But in our country, it is imported without any restriction. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported almost Ninety five percent of the white asbestos it mined and out of it forty-three percent was shipped to India. It is quite surprising that our country is openly importing huge quantity of a product, which causes cancer. This is despite the fact that safer and almost cheap alternatives to asbestos are available in the country. Instead of importing a hazardous material, it will be better if we spend some money in research and development and use environment friendly product. In view of the above, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative material.”
Through you I wish to urge Quebec government and Quebec National Assembly to desist from providing fiscal support to an industry in Quebec which is liable for the fatal asbestos diseases and death of millions of workers and consumers.
In such a context, through you BANI urges the legislators to ensure that ‘ban on asbestos commerce’ must be made a pre-condition for the proposed free trade agreement between India and Canada.
I humbly submit that this provides an unprecedented opportunity to the Canadian Parliament to assert its legislative will and stop the group of international investors who want to purchase the Jeffrey asbestos mine that will lead to production of killer fibers of asbestos to expand from 15,000 to 180, 000 tonne/year in 2012 and eventually to 225,000 tonnes.
Sadly, while the production of asbestos fibers will increase, the reputation of Quebec, Canada as a civilized nation will nose dive to its nadir. Quebec and Canadian government is bigger than the Quebec asbestos industry, the way the members of Quebec National Assembly which you chair acts or does not act will determine the same. It is heartening to know that you are also President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie (APF). Therefore, you command a moral authority which will help you comprehend and act to set a precedent in the interest of asbestos victims of the world in general and Indian victims in particular.
I will be glad to share more information about the asbestos victims and related issues.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
Mr Hamid Ansari, Chairman, Rajya Sabha, Upper House of Indian Parliament
Mrs Meira Kumar, Speaker, Lok Sabha, Lower House Indian Parliament