After asbestos - Time to support a Royal Commission on toxic threat

By Beryl Wajsman on September 18, 2012

Public policy is not always boring. As much as most voters like the excitement of personality over purpose, there are fleeting moments in the life a nation where we have to pay attention to what has been done, and not just to what has been acted. And when such moments occur, it is our responsibility as citizens to push forward the agenda of human progress. If we fail, at those moments, to engage in the life of our nation we compromise our responsibilities  as citizens of freedom and prejudice our rights to complain.

One such moment occurred last week in the life of this nation. The federal government abandonned the protection of an entire industry and committed massive funds to find alternative and environmentally sound jobs for the workers displaced. And it did it for one of the most important imperatives of the state. The protection of the health of its citizens.

Last week the Harper administration announced that it would no longer be supporting or encouraging the mining and export of asbestos. And it committed $50 million just to the Quebec area affected, to fund new jobs in new industries. And it was not a nanny state decision that we have criticized at all government levels in the past.

This wasn't about forcing individuals to change their habits like the anti-smoking laws. In a free society people have a right to choose, even badly. You have all seen me write this before. No, this decision is important on a much higher level.

It is a recognition that there are macro factors in our environment that are affecting the health of us all, and that their affects must be studied, curtailed and perhaps eliminated. 

It is a recognition that there is a difference between citizens having a right to choose to smoke and drink and even overeat - personal choices that can be controlled individually - as opposed to being affected by chemical, biological, mineral and even technological agents that are part of our infrastructure - in our walls, in our air ducts, in our water and in our air - that we cannot see, control or choose. In fact, most of the time, we do not even know they are there. Like cancer-causing asbestos in buildings. Like nanotechnologies that are producing particles small enough to cross the placental barrier, the blood/ brain barrier and to slip between and into cells of the body. Against these elements, it is appropriate for the state to intervene to protect its citizens.

We have heard that the abandonment of asbestos is perhaps only the first step by the federal government in a broader plan to look at all studies and information available on all agents of assault on the common weal and create a comprehensive policy protecting Canadians' health from environmental hazards. This initiative should be encouraged and the government's efforts commended. 

Encouraged and commended perhaps even to the point of advocating for a Royal Commission on the subject. I know, why another Commission you ask. A Royal Commission has the special powers and staff necessary to collect, assimilate, research and recommend a comprehensibe approach. We all know the extraordinary growth of certain maladies and afflictions over the past few decades. From alzheimers to autism from cataracts to cancers. Hundreds of studies from centers of excellence such as the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, the National Institute of Health in Washington, the Royal Academy of Science in London and Ottawa's own National Research Council, have attributed hidden environmental hazards as the causes behind the increase in suffering.

The cost of a Royal Commission would be small compared to the cost of treating people who succumb to the ever heightening spiral of toxically induced diseases.

These aren't issues like global warming which is still being fought on the scientific battlefield with competing theories. These are identified threats to the public well-being. Identified substances that can be replaced with harmless ones. But it takes a centralized, concerted national effort to put intent into practice.

Just as the fedeal government committed to finding alternatives to lost asbestos jobs - safe alternatives to asbestos itself have already been in place for years - so we can now begin to find safe alternatives for other dangers from the enemies within. It is a long road. But let us begin.

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Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

Senior Editor

Daniel Laprès

Redacteur-adjoint

Brigitte Garceau

Contributing Editor

Robert J. Galbraith

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Roy Piberberg

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