Ottawa has been urged to ban asbestos mining by activists, who say it is "exporting human misery on a monumental scale" by allowing sales of the fibrous mineral to developing nations.
Asbestos is the "greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known," opposition member of Parliament and former asbestos miner Pat Martin told a press conference.
And it is "Canada's greatest shame that we continue to be one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world," he said. "We are exporting human misery on a monumental scale."
The government was not immediately available to comment.
Asbestos is a generic term for various fibrous minerals found in natural rock formations. Because the fibres are strong, durable and non-flammable, they were widely used in industrial furnaces and to insulate buildings until the 1970s in Canada.
Now local production is largely exported to developing nations where activists fear checks on its safe use are lacking. When inhaled the fibres can scar lungs and cause disease, including cancer.
"I'm asking (the government) to stop mining and stop selling this product," said Sandra Kinart, a community activist whose husband died of lung disease linked to asbestos mining.
"This just shouldn't be happening," she said. "Employers have a responsibility to their workers to keep them safe. No man gets dressed to go to work in the morning to die."
Tushar Kant Joshi, India's leading anti-asbestos advocate and occupational health expert, was also on hand. He commented that asbestos exports "have done little to improve Canada's economic health," but have seriously damaged public health abroad.
If Canada bans exports, other major exporting countries like Zimbabwe or Russia or Brazil will take note, he earlier told the daily Globe and Mail.
Canadian asbestos exports have steadily declined from a peak in 1979 valued at 652 million dollars to less than one hundred million dollars annually in recent years, according to Statistics Canada.
"People in third world countries will curse the name of Canada if this (mining) continues," commented Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, an industrial town at the southern tip of Lake Huron that suffered an epidemic of asbestos-related cancers and deaths.