The federal government is set to announce a comprehensive ban on asbestos next week, bringing Canada in line with more than 50 other countries that have prohibited the known carcinogen.
Officials in the Minister of Science's office said in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail on Friday that the federal government is "committed to moving forward with a ban on asbestos," and an announcement is expected "in the near future."
Sources confirmed it will come next week.
"There will be an announcement they're going to ban it, and there will be a timetable for how that will happen," said a source who is familiar with the government's plans but declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the issue.
Action on a ban will come after years of pressure from doctors, scientists, labour groups, anti-asbestos advocates and families who have lost loved ones to asbestos-related diseases.
It also follows years of coverage in The Globe on the toll of asbestos on the health of Canadians and – through exports – people in countries such as India. Earlier this week, The Globe reported on new data showing asbestos is still the top on-the-job killer in Canada. The paper has also reported that asbestos-containing products continue to be used in new buildings such as condominiums and hospitals.
Canada's last asbestos mine closed in 2011, but the product is still allowed, with millions of dollars in asbestos-containing products such as brake pads entering the country each year.
Medical experts have estimated Canada has at least 2,000 new asbestos-related cancer cases a year. The number of new cases of mesothelioma – a deadly form of cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure – rose to 580 in 2013, more than double the levels of two decades earlier, according to Statistics Canada. Mesothelioma has long latency periods, typically of 20 to 40 years, and doctors have said the number of cases in Canada has not yet peaked.
Stacy Cattran, whose father died of mesothelioma in 2008 after workplace exposure near Sarnia, Ont., said she is "thrilled" the government is keeping its commitment to ban asbestos.
"It comes too late for my father and his generation, but it is an important first step in protecting the next generation. I am anxious to see the text of the ban and trust it will be comprehensive with rapid implementation. Safe alternatives exist, so there is no need for further delays."
The World Health Organization says all forms of asbestos cause lung and other cancers, mesothelioma and asbestosis. It says the most efficient way to eliminate these diseases is to stop the use of asbestos.
For years, however, the federal government was a staunch supporter of the asbestos industry, and played down the health risks, despite evidence of its dangers. For two decades, the federal and Quebec governments gave millions of dollars to an asbestos industry lobby group.
And between 2006 and 2011, Canada was the only developed nation to oppose bringing asbestos under the control of the Rotterdam Convention, a treaty that requires the exporters of hazardous substances to disclose the risks.
Countries including Australia, Britain, Germany and most recently New Zealand, have banned asbestos, while the United States and Mexico have not.
Canada long mined asbestos, and by 1947 was the top producer of the "white gold," with its exports going around the world. The mineral was strong, versatile and durable, and was used in everything from children's modelling clay to insulation, roof tiles and insulation for pipes.
A growing number of groups have called for a ban. Earlier this week, an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by 68 organizations called for both a ban and the creation of an expert panel to oversee how to manage existing asbestos in buildings, homes and landfills. The Canadian Labour Congress, the country's largest labour organization, has also called for a ban and other measures to better protect workers' health and safety.
"Canada's unions have been working for this ban for years and we hope it is a comprehensive one," CLC president Hassan Yussuff said on Friday.
In May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is "moving forward" on a ban, noting that the impact of asbestos on workers "far outweighs any benefits that it might provide."
Last month, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, who is overseeing the file, said in the House of Commons that the "science is clear," and that she would announce details of how the government "will fulfill this commitment, including timelines, by the end of the year."
With a report from Robert Fife in Ottawa