Workplace Health and Safety

Asbestos in Canada: A Timeline

April 21, 2016

1870s: Quebec becomes the first province to mine asbestos. 

1920s: The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company creates the Department of Industrial Hygiene at McGill University. Asbestos is believed to be making workers ill and causing a “dust disease” of the lungs. 

February 14, 1949: Quebec asbestos miners from the Asbestos and Thetford mines embark on a strike to fight to improve working conditions and wages. This historic strike, which was illegal at the time, was supported by unions and carried on for five months before a settlement was reached. 

1960s: South African researchers link mesothelioma to crocidolite asbestos exposure.

1963: Open-pit mining begins at the Baie Verte asbestos mine in Newfoundland. 

1966: J. Corbett McDonald, a McGill University professor, studies the effects of chrysotile asbestos mining in Canada. The research appears to indicate that chrysotile asbestos is not responsible for causing miners’ lung tumours. At the time, Canada produced 40 percent of the world’s chrysotile asbestos. Years later, there were records of payments from the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association to McDonald and other researchers at the McGill School of Occupational Health surface, totalling almost a million dollars from 1966 to 1972. 

1976: In 1976, the United Steelworkers (USW) local in Baie Verte, Newfoundland, succeeds in having Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, a world-renowned specialist, examine 485 mine and mill workers (97 percent of the workforce). His report, published in 1977, indicates that 10 percent of those examined had asbestos-related diseases. This report led to occupational health and safety demands in collective bargaining, and ultimately an historic 14-week strike for better working conditions.

1984: The Ontario Royal Commission suggests a ban on crocidolite and amosite, two types of commonly used asbestos fibre, but notes that chrysotile can be used if there are controls on dust.

1984: Canada establishes The Asbestos Institute, later called the Chrysotile Institute. 

1987: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concludes that chrysotile asbestos causes lung cancer and mesothelioma.

1989: J. Corbett McDonald publishes a report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that indicates that tremolite found in Canadian chryostile asbestos causes mesothelioma. 

1990: All asbestos mining in Newfoundland and Labrador ceases due to problems with markets and access, along with a wide range of health and legal problems.

1997: France prohibits the import and use of chrysotile asbestos and all chrysotile-containing products as of January 1, 1997. 

1999: France’s decision prompts Canada, a major asbestos exporter, to seek redress through the WTO. The WTO confirms support for the French ban in a 2000 ruling and re-confirmed on appeal in 2001.

2003: Nearly all major unions affiliated to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) at this point have issued strong calls on the government to ban the export, import and use of asbestos.

December 2003: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) granted $775,000 over three years to the Asbestos Institute. They lobby for the “safe use” of asbestos in countries like India, Japan, and Brazil.

2004: Canada blocks the addition of Chrysotile asbestos to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list under the Rotterdam Convention.

January 1, 2005: The European Union-wide ban on chrysotile asbestos takes effect.

March 2005: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) institutes a ban on the use of asbestos for its projects around the world. 

2006: The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization call for a worldwide ban on asbestos. Canada vetoes a move to add chrysotile asbestos into the Rotterdam Convention’s listing of hazardous substances, criticized by the CLC.

2006: The CLC begins formally working with Ban Asbestos Canada. 

2007: Health Canada commissions a report on asbestos and occupational health. The CLC delays taking an official public position in support of a ban on chrysotile asbestos until the Health Canada scientific report is released.

2008: Health Canada’s report is peer-reviewed but is not released until 2009, at which point it is not made publicly-available. The report concludes that a “strong relationship” exists between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos in Canada, along with causal relationships with mesothelioma and asbestosis.

February 15, 2011: Alongside the CLC, the Canadian Cancer Society, together with 25 other health organizations, address letters to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, imploring the government to stop its funding of the Chrysotile Institute and to end export of asbestos to developing countries. 

June 2011: At the 2011 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva, the Canadian delegation again refuses to allow the addition of chrysotile fibers to the Rotterdam Convention. Canada is the only G7 country to object to the listing and Canada is publicly criticized by the CLC. 

February 2012: McGill University’s asbestos research conducted from 1971 to 1998 falls under the scrutiny of 30 physicians and academics, calling for an independent review of the findings. The research team is accused of being influenced by the asbestos industry’s interests. 

June 29, 2012: The Quebec government promises $58 million for Jeffrey Mine, one of the last remaining asbestos mines, which could keep the facility alive for 20 more years. This is cancelled in October 2012 by the newly-elected Parti Québécois government.

September 2012: Bending to CLC pressure, Canadian Industry minister, Christian Paradis, announces the Canadian government will no longer oppose inclusion of chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention.

March 2016: The Canadian Labour Congress writes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call for a comprehensive ban on asbestos.

April 1, 2016: Public Services and Procurement Canada officially banned the use of asbestos-containing materials in all construction and major renovations. The department oversees 30 percent of the total area of federal buildings and a portion of planned new construction.

April 19, 2016: CLC mobilizes hundreds of workers and organizes a lobby on Parliament Hill, calling on Canada to ban asbestos. 

April 28, 2016: CLC holds national days of remembrance and action on April 28 – the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured on the job – calling for Canada to enact a comprehensive ban on asbestos.

May 10, 2016: Prime Minister Trudeau, in a speech to building trades workers, commits his government to move forward with a ban on asbestos but no details or timeline are provided.

October 3, 2016: The federal government releases an online inventory of Canadian government buildings containing asbestos.



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