According to Bob Sass, chairman of the Ban Asbestos Saskatchewan committee, the Canadian Cancer Society's call for a national ban on the use and export of asbestos is welcomed news and reflects a changing environment.
"Obviously this is a very important part of a movement in Canada of public interests and social justice organizations to put the ban of asbestos or the asbestos issue on the political agenda,'' Sass was quoted.
"Up to now it has not been put on the political stage either by provincial governments or by the federal government"' he added.
However according to Sass, the cancer society has been late on jumping on the bandwagon considering both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization have adopted long-standing declarations citing asbestos as a major cancer-causing material and a leading cause of occupational deaths in the world.
"The society believes that exposure to asbestos must stop so that asbestos-related diseases can be eliminated,'' says Barbara Whylie, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society.
Canada has been strongly criticized by a number of United Nations organizations for its efforts to block an international asbestos ban prohibiting asbestos exports to primarily Third World countries.
Many environmental, health and social justice organizations have remained silent, Sass says, because they are reliant on funding from government agencies.
"I think now because of external factors, many of these organizations that have been part of the broad general conspiracy of silence fostered by the Chrysotile Institute, which is nothing more than the equivalent of the Tobacco Council that denied for years that there was any direct link between smoking and cancer, are willing to break that silence,'' states Sass, who has been lobbying the provincial government to ban the use of asbestos products in Saskatchewan.
Sass will also be appearing before Saskatoon City Council next week in support of a motion to ban the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products in that city.
While the Canadian Cancer Society did not set a deadline for the countrywide ban, it recommended that a "fair and just transitional plan'' be established for communities and workers affected by closing down the asbestos mines - most notably the eastern townships in Quebec where asbestos is mined.
Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn issued a one-paragraph statement defending the status quo on grounds that chrysotile asbestos, the only type mined in Quebec, is "safe when properly used.'' He also confirmed the government had last year opposed listing chrysotile asbestos on an international list of the most toxic substances.
Yet, Sass and Don Anderson, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labor's executive assistant, insist that Canada's long-held policy on asbestos has been kept in place by successive federal governments because they do not want to risk endangering their political prospects in Quebec as a result of potential job losses created by any mine closures.
Every year about a third of Saskatchewan workers who die from work-related causes die from asbestos-related diseases, says Anderson.
"This is really harmful stuff,'' he warns.