Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canadian Asbestos Industry Reacts to Criminal Conviction of Two European Execs: Canadian Asbestos Reacts to Historic Euro Verdict

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canadian Asbestos Industry Reacts to Criminal Conviction of Two European Execs: Canadian Asbestos Reacts to Historic Euro Verdict

Article excerpt

MONTREAL - Canada's asbestos industry said it had nothing to fear Monday after two men were criminally convicted in more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths in Italy.

Construction-firm executives Jean-Louise de Cartier of Belgium and Stephan Schmidheiny of Switzerland were each handed 16-year prison sentences for negligence following a trial that officials called historic.

A representative for Canada's controversial asbestos sector said he doesn't think similar criminal charges could ever be laid against industry players here.

"I personally believe that there is no possibility," said Guy Versailles, a spokesman for Montreal asbestos salesman Baljit Chadha and Quebec's Jeffrey Mine.

Versailles said if it were possible, such charges likely would already have been filed against people in a highly scrutinized industry that has lost many civil lawsuits for past unsafe practices of the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

"The victims and the lawyers have been so persistent on this -- for decades -- milking the industry dry that anything they could do and anything governments could do would have been done," he said Monday following the verdict in Italy.

"I think it's as simple as that."

Versailles insists the embattled Canadian industry, which is now only located in central Quebec, cleaned up its act long ago. The industry says the fibrous mineral is safe when handled in a secure manner -- a claim industry critics dispute.

But one legal expert said similar criminal charges could be possible in Canada. He added, however, that it might be difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction.

Ed Ratushny, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said executives can be charged in Canada with negligence for employee injuries and deaths.

As an example, Ratushny cited the 1992 Westray coal-mine explosion in Nova Scotia, which killed 26 miners. Criminal charges were laid against the company and a few of its managers, but they were stayed after a trial.

He said it's hard to make a direct link between actions taken by industry executives and asbestos exposure, which often takes a long time to develop into a related illness.

Ratushny noted that just because lawyers have won civil lawsuits against the Canadian asbestos industry doesn't guarantee criminal charges could also be laid.

"There's a higher burden of proof in a criminal case -- you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. …

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