Asbestos should be banned in Canada, says Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who hopes the private member's bill he introduced this week to prohibit the known carcinogen will put further pressure on the Trudeau government to take action.
"I'm looking to create an awareness in the government side … that parliamentarians would like to see this banned," he said in an interview. "It's destroyed too many lives. The economic benefits do not outweigh the health negatives and health concerns and destructive nature of this product. And I still can't believe that we're using it."
Unlike dozens of other countries, such as Britain and Australia, Canada has never banned asbestos. The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that new annual data show asbestos is still, by far, the top workplace killer in Canada.
Mr. Ouellette's bill proposes amending the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to add asbestos as a prohibited substance. "There is science behind this, and we are a government that believes in science, and the science says conclusively that this is a dangerous product," he said.
The World Health Organization says all forms of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other types of cancers, along with asbestosis. It says the most efficient way to eliminate these diseases is to stop the use of asbestos.
In May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is "moving forward" on a ban, noting that its impact on workers "far outweighs any benefits that it might provide."
More than half a year later, no announcement has been made. Questions sent to the office of the Science Minister, who is responsible for the file, about a timeline for a decision were not answered.
Mr. Ouellette is aware the federal government is considering what to do. "I really want to encourage, in a public way, the government to go for the prohibition completely on asbestos."
Mr. Ouellette, a Winnipeg MP, said he was motivated by the work of Pat Martin, the former NDP MP in his riding, who lobbied for years for a ban. "I was reviewing some of the things he had been doing in Parliament previous to this, and I said to myself: 'This is something that would be good to continue to push, but this time obviously from inside the government, to see what kind of results we can get.'"
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 levels of two decades earlier, according to Statistics Canada. When asbestos-related lung cancers are included, medical experts have estimated there are at least 2,000 new cases in Canada per year.
This is the second federal private member's bill to call for an asbestos ban. Last month, NDP MP Sheri Benson introduced a bill to prohibit its use. Earlier this week, an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 68 organizations including the Canadian Teachers' Federation and the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, called for a ban and the creation of an expert panel to oversee how to manage existing asbestos in buildings, homes and landfills.
Pressure is also growing at the provincial level. On Thursday, Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey introduced a private member's bill at Queen's Park that would ban asbestos use in Ontario and require the province to create a register of all provincial buildings that contain asbestos, similar to Saskatchewan's registry.
An estimate of the toll of asbestos-related cancers on society, released earlier this year by the Institute for Work & Health, pegs the cost of new cases at $1.7-billion per year in Canada, and notes that is likely an under-estimate.