OPINION: Canadian government fails to protect its own workers from asbestos harm

Kathleen Ruff
Kathleen Ruff





THE Canadian government has a legal obligation under the Canada Labour Code to protect its workers from asbestos harm. It is an obligation that the government is not fulfilling. Asbestos is the biggest occupational killer of workers in Canada.

A report today by the CBC tells how for decades asbestos assessment reports on a major government building in Ottawa showed contamination that posed risk of asbestos harm to maintenance and other workers.

The workers were not told and were not protected.

A consultant’s report to the government in October 2014 stated that the building was not in compliance with regulations and “recommends repair and or removal of damaged ACMs [asbestos containing materials] as well as asbestos-containing debris.”

Nothing was done. The government hid the information from its workers.

In the CBC report, Denis Lapointe, an Ottawa electrician, says he was exposed to asbestos and other toxins while working at the building for 16 years, and was only able to obtain this information by filing access to information requests.

The Minister of Labour, Kellie Leitch, is a medical doctor and she is the person responsible for enforcing the requirements of the Canada Labour Code. She is failing to do so.


Medical doctors made repeated appeals to Dr. Leitch


In September 2011,  medical doctors made repeated appeals to Dr. Leitch to put her ethical duty as a physician ahead of her political ambition and to stop supporting the mining, use and export of asbestos by Canada and to stop supporting misinformation about asbestos harm. At that time, she was simply a Member of Parliament and not in the cabinet.

She refused to heed their appeal.


Asbestos victims also appealed to Dr. Leitch


The appeal by asbestos victims was also repudiated. In their letter, asbestos victims told Leitch:

* We have appealed to you repeatedly to end your complicity with asbestos and asked you to put you medical duty ahead of your political ambition.

* You have callously met our appeals with silence.

* Your medical peers across Canada and around the world have challenged you to respect your medical Code of Ethics and to stop supporting the asbestos industry’s deadly discredited propaganda.

* You have contemptuously met the profoundly serious ethical challenge from your peers with silence


Dr. Leitch was rewarded for putting politics ahead of her ethical duty


Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper is dedicated to protecting the rights of the asbestos industry and for years funded the asbestos lobby organisation (the Chrysotile Institute) with public funds.

Harper is not dedicated to protecting Canadians from asbestos harm and refuses to ban asbestos.

Harper was pleased with Leitch’s conduct and promoted her to a cabinet position, ironically, as Minister of Labour and in charge of workers’ health.

Who could be less trustworthy to hold this position?


(Kathleen Ruff was given the National Public Health Hero Award by the Canadian Public Health Association for working to protect people from asbestos harm.)