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Michaela Keyserlingk, whose husband Robert died of asbestos-related cancer, displays his photo and a banner ad she created to put pressure on the Conservative government at her home in Labelle, Que., on Aug. 13, 2011. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Michaela Keyserlingk, whose husband Robert died of asbestos-related cancer, displays his photo and a banner ad she created to put pressure on the Conservative government at her home in Labelle, Que., on Aug. 13, 2011. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ontario mayor decries 'shameful' Tory tactics toward asbestos widow Add to ...

The mayor of Sarnia, Ont., has written a letter to the Conservative Party of Canada, accusing it of “absolutely shameful” behaviour in its dispute with the widow of an asbestos victim.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley reacted to news that the woman, Michaela Keyserlingk, received a threatening email warning her to stop using the party's trademarked logo in her anti-asbestos ad campaign.

“Your actions on the asbestos issue ... with threatening a widow whose husband died of exposure to asbestos are absolutely shameful,” Mr. Bradley wrote in an email to Conservative Party executive director Dan Hilton.

“I invite you to come to Sarnia Lambton and see the devastating impact asbestos has had on countless lives of the people of this community and why it is morally wrong for Canada to support and promote the export of asbestos.

“I look forward to hearing from you.”

Mr. Bradley added in an interview Monday that many residents of his industrial city of 70,000 were exposed to the hazardous mineral and have since been struck by diseases linked to it.

This latest tussle in Canada's debate over its declining asbestos industry comes as the Quebec government mulls whether to help relaunch one of the country's only remaining mines.

Ms. Keyserlingk, whose husband Robert died in 2009 of a cancer linked to asbestos exposure, said Monday that she's received a wave of supportive emails since going public with the Tory warning.

Her banner ad reads, “Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!” and features a Tory logo.

The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper have been adamant defenders of Canada's declining asbestos-mining industry, despite growing concern from health experts around the world.

Proponents maintain the substance is safe when handled properly and argue that the asbestos being mined in Quebec, chrysotile, is far less dangerous than the notorious amphibole variety. But opponents reject the idea that the substance could be handled safely, according to the strictest standards, in the poor countries that import it.

The Canadian Cancer Society says close to 100,000 people die globally every year because of workplace exposure to asbestos fibres.

Ms. Keyserlingk acknowledges that she doesn't have permission to use the Tory logo, but insists she's not going to remove the ad until she meets with a senior member of the Conservatives to discuss the future of Canada's asbestos industry.

Coincidentally, Ms. Keyserlingk says her husband was the former president for the Ottawa-Centre Progressive Conservative riding association.

The Tories cast the dispute as a simple copyright issue.

They said Monday that they routinely send letters like the one forwarded to Keyserlingk when their logo is used without permission.

“It is a step we are required to take whenever we discover there is an unauthorized use of our logo,” party spokesman Fred DeLorey said in an email Monday. “We have nothing further to add to this.”

Mr. Bradley said he took offence with how the Conservatives dealt with Ms. Keyserlingk.

“This woman was simply trying to bring to the attention of the Canadian public what many others have been trying to do in the last number of years,” Mr. Bradley said.

The mayor ran for the federal Liberals in 1984 but insists he has no ties with any party in Ottawa. He has long been critical of the asbestos industry, dating to back to well before the Tories took office.

Sarnia's council passed a resolution in 2001 calling for an end to Canadian asbestos exports, and the mayor suggests politicians focus on creating new jobs in another sector.

He said Monday that he hadn't yet received a response to his email from the Conservatives.

Meanwhile Monday, an attempt was afoot to breathe new life into one of Canada's last remaining asbestos mines.

The Quebec government has already agreed to guarantee a controversial $58-million bank loan to extend the life of Jeffrey Mine in the town of Asbestos for another 25 years, as long as the company can find enough private financing.

The deadline for the deal had been set by the provincial government for Monday, but the company has requested an extension.

The company says the mining project would create up to 500 jobs in the central Quebec region.

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