After decades of struggle from activists against an insidious industry, Canada has finally announced a nationwide ban on the use, mining and importing of asbestos.
Kathleen Ruff has campaigned against asbestos in Canada for years.
The ban, to be implemented by the end of 2018, will see asbestos banned in all building materials and imported products.
Canada was previously a major exporter of raw asbestos, with the last Canadian asbestos mine closing in 2011.
When the Canadian asbestos industry was in trouble in the 1980s after the dangers of the deadly substance became widely known, a coalition of government and industry figures decided to support the industry. They marketed deadly asbestos around the world and developed a public relations campaign to present asbestos as a safe and affordable building product.
It would take a concerted effort by anti-asbestos advocates to fight back against this.
On a recent visit to Australia, Canadian activist Kathleen Ruff, who has been instrumental in convincing Canadian governments and businesses that a ban is the right thing to do, addressed the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Conference.
In her keynote address, ‘How the Asbestos Industry was Defeated in Canada,’ Kathleen told attendees about the long process of gathering journalists, politicians, scientists, trade unionists, people working in the asbestos industry and people affected by asbestos diseases to a consensus.
“When we started 10 years ago everything was against us,” Kathleen said. “The industry had total political support from every party in Canada, it had the support of the trade union movement. It had media support and it had money.”
“The government gave the asbestos industry and lobby organisations millions of dollars to market asbestos to developing countries, telling them it was safe.”
“We had no money. All we had was the truth. The facts and reality that all forms of asbestos are deadly and that we should stop using it.”
Since those early days, things have changed dramatically.
“In 2012 the asbestos industry was all set to expand and we were about to become the second biggest exporter of asbestos in the world. We managed to defeat them and stop that,” Kathleen said.
“Since 2012 all asbestos mining and export in Canada has stopped – it has been ended.”
It was this achievement that laid the foundations for the ban on use and importation that Kathleen and the alliance she has built achieved this year.
Kathleen said that the work of Australian anti-asbestos advocates and trade unionists is leading the way in the fight against the deadly substance.
“I think the fact that Australia is taking a leading role in trying to bring about a global ban on asbestos is absolutely wonderful and much-needed. I hope this is going to make a real difference and that other countries will join with Australia and say, ‘Enough is enough. Let’s stop this tragedy. Let’s stop killing people with asbestos’. “I think this is a very encouraging development and I applaud Australia and the people of Australia for bringing that about.”