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In a surprise policy reversal, the Harper Conservative government announced they would no longer defend the exportation of deadly asbestos.

The move comes a year after Canada once again blocked listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material in the Rotterdam Convention, a UN treaty that promotes shared responsibilities for the importation of hazardous materials.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis made the announcement to reporters late Friday. The Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Que. had been one of the world’s largest exporters of asbestos, but shut down in 2010. The mine was slated to reopen with the help of a $58-million loan from the provincial government, but with incoming premier Pauline Marois expected to cancel the loan, the federal government has also decided to change course.

CUPE has a long history of opposing the sale and exportation of the deadly material. Last year, CUPE supported the CanadaCausesCancer.com campaign to raise public awareness of this very issue.

CUPE National President Paul Moist welcomed the government’s reversal:

Better late than never—we’re glad to hear the Harper government has finally decided to do the right thing,” said Moist. “At the same time, I can’t help but agree with NDP MP Pat Martin. It has taken the government a long time to get to this realization and accept responsibility for the export of deadly materials.“

Martin has been the most vocal MP in opposition to the government’s support of the industry. On Friday he expressed his dismay that it’s taken this long for the government to see the light.

Canada’s position on asbestos has been morally and ethically reprehensible for the better part of a century,” Martin told the Toronto Star.

The next opportunity to include chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention will be at the sixth Conference of the Parties meeting (COP6) in July 2013.