Asbestos is killing Canadians — that was the message front and centre at this year’s National Day of Mourning for the victims of workplace deaths.
The regional ceremony for the observance was held once again in Lake Cowichan.
Politicians, labour union representatives and members of the public gathered at the Forest Workers Memorial Park to speak about workplace safety and to remember those who died on the job.
Ellen Oxman, president of the Nanaimo, Duncan and District Labour Council, hosted the event.
“It’s important we have a day to remember those who died on the job, who didn’t come home from work, and also those who died from work related illnesses,” she said.
“The [Canadian Labour Council] and unions in Canada have a very strong campaign on banning asbestos. We still have not done that in Canada.”
According to the CLC’s website, it’s estimated that every year more than 2,000 people die from diseases caused by asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. The group also asserts that asbestos imports into Canada are increasing, with importation of asbestos-related items increasing to almost $6 million in 2015 from $4.9 million the year before.
“It’s something you can be exposed to and 50 or 60 years later it’s a disease,” said Oxman. “And the diseases that come from asbestos-related exposure [are] horrible, painful, terrible diseases that you can only get from asbestos. So there’s one way to eliminate that and that’s to eliminate asbestos.”
This year marked the second time Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor attended the Day of Mourning ceremony in Lake Cowichan.
“I want to stand here in solidarity with people who have lost loved ones and I feel the responsibility as an elected representative to do what I can for the Canada Labour Code to make sure we have the policies and legislation in place to make sure workplaces are as safe as they can,” he said.
MacGregor pledged his support for the CLC’s anti-asbestos campaign. He said he is happy to take up the cause and “do what [he] can” in parliament to advance the movement to ban asbestos in Canada, which has already happened in countries like New Zealand, Japan, Australia and South Africa.
“I just think the product is far too dangerous in any form,” he said. “The use of asbestos in Canada has fallen dramatically but it’s still being exported to other countries and that’s a real problem because other countries may not have the same workplace safety standards we do.”
Lake Cowichan town councillor Carolyne Austin was among the local politicians present at the event. She said holding the ceremony in Lake Cowichan is significant for the town, especially at the Forest Workers Memorial Park, which reflects the region’s history and the workers who built up the communities that exist around the lake today.
“We think it’s important to have it here,” she said. “It does say Forest Workers Memorial Park, but it can be any [workers].”
Austin said the town donated the land for the memorial park, with funds from Island Savings, the Cowichan Lake Forest Co-op and the United Steelworkers.
Oxman said her group is proud to hold the Day of Mourning ceremony at the Lake.
“This is such a beautiful park…and it just really reinforces all of the reasons we do what we do and promote safety every day in the work place,” she said.