06/23/2011 09:46 EDT | Updated 08/23/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Asbestos Debate Rages On at Geneva Summit, Refuses To List Chrysotile As Hazardous


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - As talks at a Swiss summit dragged late into Thursday night, Canada dug in its heels to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical.

The Canadian delegation told a plenary meeting in Geneva it would continue to oppose the listing of asbestos on a UN treaty called the Rotterdam Convention, the United Nations said.

"Canada announced to the plenary that it is not in a position to agree to listing chrysotile asbestos at this conference," Michael Stanley-Jones of the UN Environment Program said in an email.

"It looks to be a long night ahead."

Listing asbestos on Annex III of the convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could also then refuse asbestos imports if they didn't think they could handle the product safely.

Asbestos use is so tightly controlled in Canada that it is effectively banned. The federal government is spending tens of millions of dollars to remove asbestos from public buildings, including on Parliament Hill and from the prime minister's residence.

Canada has twice before played a lead role in blocking the inclusion of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus.

This time around, it looked like Canada would keep to the sidelines and let other asbestos-exporting countries such as Ukraine, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan block the move.

That changed when India -- a major importer of asbestos -- abruptly agreed it should be listed. One-by-one the other countries dropped their opposition to the listing.

So Canada alone blocked the move.

But in the hours that followed, Kazakhstan and Ukraine apparently had second thoughts. They are now the only other two countries out of more than 100 that oppose adding asbestos to the convention.

Back home, the governing Conservatives were hammered in the House of Commons over Canada's position at the summit.

And so it fell to Industry Minister Christian Paradis to defend Canada's us-against-the-world stance.

Paradis stood and repeated Conservative talking points.

"We know that chrysotile can be used in a safe fashion in a controlled environment," he said.

Paradis comes from Thetford Mines, Que., home to Canada's $90 million asbestos industry.

As well, public records filed with the commissioner of lobbying show the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute lobbied political aide Marc Toupin four times last year when he worked as a policy adviser to Paradis, who was natural resources minister at the time.

The Geneva summit ends Friday.