Canada's new asbestos ban isn’t expected to come into full effect until late 2018, meaning that brake pads and linings that contain the toxic material could continue to be imported until then.
Carmakers and domestic parts manufacturers stopped using the silicate mineral in brake pads and linings years ago. Asbestos mining ended in Canada in 2011.
“Some people really thought it was something we had moved past,” says Jean-François Champagne, president of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada.
Yet asbestos-as-automotive-component has remained stubbornly, silently persistent. It comes from offshore manufacturers, mainly in brake parts: between 2005 and 2015 Canada imported more than $100 million in asbestos pads and linings, according to one estimate.
In December, after years of pressure from Canadian manufacturer ABS Friction, trade groups and the Unifor union that represents autoworkers, the federal government announced a comprehensive ban on asbestos imports and use by 2018.
What took so long? In a word, money. As a world leader in its production, Canada was a prime promoter of the strong, fire-resistant material for products from insulation to gaskets to floor tiles. Even as other countries acknowledged thatexposure to asbestos particles could lead to the pulmonary disease called asbestosis and cancers such as mesothelioma, Canada and Quebec were funding the Asbestos Institute (later the Chrysotile Institute) to lobby on behalf of asbestos miners.
By 1999 asbestos was listed as a toxic substance under Canada’s Environmental Protection Act and fell under federal and provincial controls. But it was not, as many had expected, banned outright.
“There’s a general sense that, well, government’s looking after it; it’s being taken care of. So there’s a sense of complacency, and the public’s mind shifts to more salient concerns,” says Will Amos, an environmental lawyer and Liberal Member of Parliament for Quebec’s Pontiac riding.