Where’s the empathy?

“Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos.” Disturbing, isn’t it? This rallying cry comes from Michaela Keyserlingk, a widow of an asbestos-related cancer victim who has recently been caught in a firestorm against the Conservative government regarding her anti-asbestos campaign. The official reasons that the Conservatives are using to justify an attempt to end Ms. Keyserlingk’s campaign centers on a claim of trademark infringement. Yet, the broader question is why the government would draw high-profile attention to the issue at all if they refuse to engage in a discussion about the issue itself.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, I will quickly summarize the issue. Since spring 2011, Ms. Keyserlingk has been using the aforementioned statement in an online banner ad alongside the symbol of the Conservative party. Keyserlingk’s husband Robert died in 2009 of mesothelioma, a cancer that is linked to asbestos inhalation. She wants to see the industry shut down for good, noting the 100,000 deaths that occur per year because of asbestos and is distraught by the lack of response she has received from the Canadian government.

The only response she has received is a complaint that she is infringing on the trademarked party logo. They have contacted Ms. Keyserlingk, and have demanded that she “cease immediately,” and that “failure to do so may result in further action.”

The Conservative assertion that this is about their logo looks to be only part of the story. It seems more likely that this is simply the way the party would like to spin this issue. While Conservative staffers would argue that this is simply them protecting the party brand, to the outside viewer, it looks more like an attempt to bully the asbestos widow into submission; to scare her and make her feel like she should stop her campaign.

There are numerous pitfalls within the Conservatives’ decision to attack Michaela Keyserlingk. Attacking Ms. Keyserlingk’s campaign lacks empathy and compassion for this hardworking Canadian. Rather than launching a campaign against Ms. Keyserlingk, the Conservatives should work together on promoting awareness of the dangers of asbestos.

The Conservative position on this issue is very puzzling. They have drawn attention to an issue they don’t want to have a debate about and yet they elevated her position into the media spotlight. If this is an attempt by the party to drive the anti-asbestos argument under the bus, it has failed miserably. It has, in fact, had the completely opposite effect. That being said, I’m not surprised, I have never given the Conservatives much credit for being clever.

But the issue of attempting to end Ms. Keyserlingk’s campaign is not my biggest problem with this story. The biggest concern should be the fact that Canada continues to export asbestos.

While asbestos has been a problem for years within Canada, in recent years there have been enormous efforts to remove any remaining asbestos from homes, schools and businesses. Despite this, the Conservative government has no problem exporting the deadly asbestos to countries which cannot afford alternatives.

I would attribute the continued mining and exportation to a general lack of compassion for low-income populations. Within Canada, it is the miners who will suffer, those who work for low wages in an attempt to make a living. On an international stage, it is also low-income families that suffer. Developing countries are the ones that import asbestos, countries where the Conservatives have little foreign interest, other than the fact that they will they continue to buy our cancer-causing asbestos.

Canada is a country where citizens should have the right to confront the government and its policies. That fact that the Conservatives have attacked Michaela Keyserlingk is a disgusting facet of Canada’s political stage. Regardless of her unsolicited use of the party logo, Keyserlingk is making an impassioned case in her husband’s memory. From a policy perspective and a humanity perspective, the Conservative party should listen. Perhaps the Conservatives should tell their lawyers to focus on corporations which damage Canada’s international reputation and the world’s environment, rather than attacking a widow who is just trying to fight for a cause she believes in.

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