Relentless rise in numbers of Canadians falling victim to asbestos-related disease. Health Minister Aglukkaq challenged to take action.

Thu, Oct 13, 2011


October 13, 2011

Hon. Leona Aglukkaq

Minister of Health

House of Commons, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Aglukkaq:

It is now almost two years since we called on you to take action to deal with the epidemic of asbestos-related disease occurring across Canada. We expressed our disappointment at your failure, as Minister of Health, to address this public health tragedy.

You rebuffed our appeal and did nothing.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada show that, since we made our appeal to you on December 1, 2009, the number of new cases of mesothelioma – a deadly disease known only to be caused by asbestos – has increased by 10%.

We are witnessing a relentless rise in the number of cases of mesothelioma. Over the past fifteen years the number of new cases has almost doubled from 276 cases in 1992 to 512 cases in 2007.

These are shocking statistics. Each of those cases represents heartbreak and suffering for the person with mesothelioma and their family.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. For each case of mesothelioma, it is conservatively estimated that there are two or more cases of lung cancer caused by asbestos. This means that, in 2007, over 1,536 Canadians became victims of deadly asbestos-related disease. In the time that has passed since you rejected our request to take action, close to 3,000 Canadians are estimated to have fallen victim to asbestos-related disease.

What makes these numbers particularly tragic is that these are unnecessary cases. They could have been prevented. We have known for decades that all asbestos is deadly and all use of asbestos should end. But politics have trumped science and the asbestos industry, to this day, maintains a stranglehold over government policy.

While over fifty countries have banned asbestos, such as Sweden in 1988, Canada continues to refuse to take action. Consequently, while cases of mesothelioma have declined in Sweden, in Canada the numbers continue to rise.

At this moment, no asbestos is being mined or exported from Canada. The last two asbestos mines at Thetford Mines and Asbestos are bankrupt and mining has ceased.

This is a moment to take action. We call on you, as Canada’s Minister of Health, to stop putting your political ambition ahead of your duty to protect human life.

We ask you to cease giving the asbestos lobby control of your policy. We ask you to support the recommendation of the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and leading medical authorities across Canada and around the world* to ban the use of asbestos.

We offer you our full support to implement a strategic plan of action, such as the one proposed by the Canadian Cancer Society, to prevent further asbestos harm to Canadians and to create sustainable, healthy jobs for the asbestos mining region.

We ask to meet with you as quickly as possible on this urgent matter.

Please do not rebuff us again. Please do not bury your head in the sand on this critical public health issue. Please act like a Minister of Health should.

We eagerly await your reply.


Dr Kapil Khatter MD, CCFP, MES, past president, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Dr Fernand Turcotte, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Professor Emeritus of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Québec

Kathleen Ruff, Senior Human Rights Advisor, Rideau Institute; National Public Health Hero award 2011, Canadian Public Health Association

Dr Jean Zigby, MD, CCFP, Family Physician, Palliative Care Specialist; President, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Montréal, Québec

Dr Éric Notebaert, M.D., MSc, CSPQ, Professeur Agrégé, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Montréal; Association Canadienne des médecins pour l’environnement

Cathy Conrad, Heidi von Palleske, Stacy Cattran and Leah Nielsen, Voices of Asbestos Victims

NOTE: Institutions named for identification purposes only

* In addition to the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society, the following is a list of medical and public health organisations that have called for all use of asbestos to end:

The Lung Association of Canada, the Quebec Medical Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Quebec Association for Public Health, the Association of physicians specializing in community Health of Québec, the Lung Association of Quebec, the National Specialty Society for Community Medicine, the Quebec Association for Occupational Hygiene, Health & Safety, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Quebec College of Family Physicians, the Canadian Association of Researchers in Work and Health, the International Commission on Occupational Health, the International Social Security Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the World Health Organization.

NOTE: It should be noted that not a single reputable medical or scientific organisation in Canada or elsewhere supports the Canadian government’s position on asbestos. Its position has been condemned as dangerous misinformation by medical and scientific authorities. Only the asbestos industry supports its position.


2 Responses to “Relentless rise in numbers of Canadians falling victim to asbestos-related disease. Health Minister Aglukkaq challenged to take action.”

  1. Kym Thrift Says:

    Canada’s export of asbestos is shameful. The product is not handled properly in developing countries – it isn’t ethical to be exporting this product at the expense of countless lives in the developing world.


  1. […] doctors, health advocates and asbestos victims today appealed to federal Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, to take action on the increasing number of cases of asbestos-related disease occurring in […]

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