Thursday, June 23, 2011

Political Complicity

I started this series on complicity after reading Nicole Shaw’s, (publisher of Synergy Magazine) article on bullying. Her organic farm is being (or the attempt is being made to) shut it down because of a by-law stating that their residentially zoned area cannot be used for agriculture purposes. The instigator, or original complainant, is a neighbor who, according to Shaw “has deliberately and systematically employed acts of intimidation and bullying.” Moreover, the local council has become complicit in the bullying by continuing to bias towards the neighbour’s viewpoint even though Shaw has received “hundreds of letters” of support with people coming to speak in their favour at community and council meetings. I encourage you to read her article for a more articulate account of what is happening.

During these past few weeks I’ve written about other forms of complicity: the Butterfly in the Jar story and my stint as a telephone solicitor. These are minor compared to what Nicole and her partner, Dirk, are experiencing but, located along the continuum of relatively benign to actively harmful, they are complicit just the same. The Canuck riot is at the other end of the spectrum where, I feel, the bystander’s complicity increased the acts of violence.

Today, I read of another act of complicity, that by the Canadian government. According to the Globe and Mail, “Canada,” acting alone on the UN stage, “has single-handedly blocked listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical.”

The article goes on to say:

Listing asbestos on Annex III of the [Rotterdam] convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could also then refuse asbestos imports if they didn't think they could handle the product safely.

Asbestos use is so tightly controlled in Canada that it is effectively banned. The federal government is spending tens of millions of dollars to remove asbestos from public buildings, including on Parliament Hill and from the prime minister's residence.
Canada’s asbestos industry is worth 90 million dollar and is mostly used in the production of cement. However, a G&M editorial stated: “most developed economies have forsaken it for other materials…. But it is a cheap enough alternative that growing Asian countries are a growing market for the product. An Asian medical journal recently reported that it expects a ‘surge of asbestos-related diseases in the immediate decades ahead’ as a result.”

Knowing the dangers of asbestos — to the extent that our government severely curtails its local use — makes the Canadian government complicit in damaging health legacies brought on by its use in the importing countries. And, the bottom line is that all the Rotterdam Convention is asking Canada to do is warn the potential buyer of its hazards. Isn’t that why we put such graphic images on tobacco products? Is not the federal government trying to limit its liability (reduce its complicity) while it benefits from tax monies from the sale of known carcinogenic products?

Moreover, exporting asbestos borders on a subtle form of economic bullying.

Bullying, according to Barbara Coloroso, is rooted in contempt. The person who is bullied “has been deemed by the bully and his or her accomplices to be worthless, inferior and undeserving of respect.” When we sell a hazardous product to another country with less stringent health regulations we are counting on their economic desperation to outweigh health considerations. It becomes an amoral transaction where money is prioritized over people’s health and welfare. Money is given more respect than human beings; industrial development over health concerns. We end up vicariously disrespecting the importing country’s citizens because their own government is doing so. We are both the bully and the complicit accomplice.

The ironic thing about bullying is when we hold another in contempt, we not only devalue them but ourselves.

Let us not be complicit in our government’s wrong doing. Write your local MP, Prime Minister Harper and the Industry Minister Christian Paradis.

Bullying, as well as the complicity of passively watching it happen, is the opposite to living an interdependent life of respect, mutuality and self leadership.


  1. Ahmen to that! Bonnie

  2. Thanks Bonnie. If anyone wants to write their MP go to to find the contact info. I feel that snail mail is best but email works too and well, guess we really dont have a choice right now. Industry minister Christian Paradis' email is and the opposition industry critic is Peggy Nash at

    Oh, Bonnie, dont forget to insert your URL when you comment.