Day of Mourning for workers focuses on asbestos ban

Day of Mourning for workers focuses on asbestos ban

Michelle Cote is speaking up for her father today because, she says, he literally has no voice of his own, his lungs destroyed by asbestos.

Clem Cote, a former boilermaker in southwestern Ontario, has mesothelioma, a cancer he contracted years after prolonged exposure to asbestos while working.

His daughter, who works in the construction industry herself, is speaking at a Toronto rally today, one of several events across the country on this annual day of mourning for workers injured and killed on the job.

The National Day of Mourning was officially recognized by the federal government in 1991.

For the first time organized labour has chosen to focus the event on one workplace health hazard in particular: asbestos.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said he's renewing the call for the federal government to take action and bring in new asbestos policies.

"I have written to the ministers of labour, industry and science to urge them to announce a plan to implement a comprehensive ban before Parliament rises this summer," said Yussuff.

Cote said she's frustrated that asbestos is still the leading cause of work-related death in Canada, some 60 years after it was identified as a carcinogen.

Every year more than 2,000 people die in Canada because of diseases and cancers caused by asbestos exposure.

"This is absolutely incomprehensible to me that we're putting everyone at risk because we have alternatives. We need to stop it," said Cote, wiping away tears.

She said her frustration comes from knowing that even if there was a comprehensive asbestos ban put in place by the Canadian government today, people will continue to be exposed to the toxin in buildings and products for decades to come.

Canada no longer exports asbestos, but it continues to allow the import of products including cement pipes and brake pads that contain asbestos.

The CLC is calling for:  

- Legislation banning the use, import and export of anything containing asbestos.

- A national registry of all public buildings that contain asbestos.

- A national registry of all workers diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases to be tracked by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 

"It's imperative that this government take the message and do the right thing. The right thing is not going to disrupt our economy, nor is it going to create challenges that this government can't manage," said Yussuff.