Kathleen Ruff with her report

Kathleen Ruff honoured for her work against asbestos in Canada

Kathleen Ruff has been honoured with two awards this year for her work against asbestos.

A local advocate for the end of asbestos exports in Canada has been honoured with two awards this year.

She is the recipient of the Canadian Public Health Association’s (CPHA) National Public Health Hero award and also a leadership award from the Rideau Institute.

“They’re both about the asbestos campaign that seems to have taken over my life for the past few years,” she said, laughing.

Ruff began her advocacy with the establishment of website RightOnCanada.ca, a site she designed to allow people to speak out against human rights issues.

“I think we’re losing ground on human rights in Canada … which is very discouraging,” she said.

She eventually released a report titled Exporting Harm, which detailed her arguments against asbestos exporting.

“I realized that no one was really raising this issue in Canada and yet we were having such an impact around the world,” she said about her involvement with the asbestos industry.

At the moment Canada isn’t exporting asbestos as the last mine in Quebec closed down but Ruff said that there is work underway to open a new mine.

“This is such a bad idea. On an economic level it’s bad…and surely we shouldn’t be creating jobs that kills people overseas. We should help create jobs, I totally agree with that, but not with asbestos,” she said.

Since she began her campaign she has seen significant progress.

When I started all other parties in the House of Commons supported the asbestos industry, all of them. And now the NDP supports banning asbestos, the Liberal party supports banning asbestos. Even Conservatives are divided.”

She calls the asbestos export a black eye for Canada.

“I can’t believe that my country can be so awful,” she said. “I want to be proud of my country.”

She credits the collaboration with health leaders in the country on the world she has been able to do.

“I could do nothing without the medical leaders and the health leaders being willing to stick their necks out,” she said.

The awards she has been given have been encouraging for her, as she said that the campaign can be draining at times.

“At times you feel like you want to give up,” she said.

With the awards, particularly with the CPHA’s, she said it makes it that much harder on detractor to dismiss her.

And it means her message reaches that many more people.

“It brings attention to the issue and makes it more difficult to ignore and shows that other people think this is an important issue. You know you are less lonely and it strengthens the issue.”

In June of this year, at a meeting of countries in Switzerland over a United Nations document called the Rotterdam Convention, nations debated the inclusion of Chrysotile asbestos into the list of dangerous materials. Doing so would have required Canada to warn purchasing nations of the dangers of the material, akin to the warning images on packages of cigarettes.

Canada did not support its inclusion at the convention.

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