Toronto-based filmmaker Kathleen Mullen knows a thing or two about bittersweet success.
Her latest film, the gripping documentary Breathtaking, investigates the Canadian asbestos industry. Valued since pre-history and commercially mined since the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was nicknamed the “magic mineral” for its fabric-like properties and its capacity to protect against fire, and was used in everything from home insulation to oven mitts.
Just one problem: asbestos is a proven carcinogen that has been banned by more than 40 countries, including every member nation of the European Union, as early as 1992 in Italy and 1997 in France. Yet, it continues to be legally mined here, primarily in Quebec and almost exclusively for export to Third World nations with less stringent legislation against toxic substances.
Canadian asbestos is not just mined; it’s essentially subsidized: each year, the feds and the Quebec provincial government give $500,000 to the Chrysotile Institute, a registered asbestos lobby group.
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