Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna announced that the federal government will fully support the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention and will advocate for it at the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Geneva.
The government supports the objective of the convention, which is to protect human health and the environment by promoting informed decisions about the import and management of certain hazardous chemicals.
In addition, the government recently published a consultation document describing the proposed regulatory approach to manage asbestos and to solicit Canadians' views on the proposed measures.
"By supporting the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, Canada is taking a concrete step to promote responsible management of this harmful substance globally," said McKenna in a statement. "We will also put in place regulatory measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians as we move forward toward a ban on asbestos."
Canada's unions applauded the announcement.
"Unions campaigned long and hard for a ban on asbestos to make workplaces and public spaces safer for all Canadians, but also people around the world who were being exposed to asbestos," said Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff.
Regarding the proposed regulations, Yussuff said the consultation document has some things he agrees with and he is eager to be involved in the consultation process to represent the workers' perspective. He said a wide variety of input will be helpful, but one of the key details is what consequences and enforcement tools will be on the table.
"Ultimately whatever regulations they have, they will have to be enforceable," Yussuff said.
Currently he said he doesn't think the regulations are comprehensive enough, but he is encouraged by the process and the timeline at which it is happening.
"I would compliment the government on the speed on which they are moving," he said.
Following an initial consultation, he believes stakeholders will get another chance to offer input.
The World Health Organization declared asbestos a human carcinogen in 1987.
According to the Labour Congress, for many years Canada continued to bolster asbestos exports by downplaying the dangers of the carcinogen internationally. The Harper government even went so far as to block the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention Prior Informed Consent list — a position that was criticized by Canada's unions, health and safety advocates and the international community.
The Canadian Labour Congress will be sending a delegation to Geneva to call on the international community to support the listing of chrysotile as well.
"We worked with the government last year to secure a comprehensive ban on the import and export of asbestos here in Canada, and we are encouraged to see Canada taking international leadership on this issue. We hope this will help countries around the world make better decisions, more fully informed about the true dangers of asbestos," Yussuff added.
Government officials intend to have an asbestos ban in place by 2018.