Canadian fighting to ban asbestos 'betrayed' by filmmaker accused of corporate espionage

An Ottawa woman fighting to get asbestos banned around the world says she feels betrayed to learn a man who represented himself as a sympathetic filmmaker is accused of being a corporate spy who was paid to gather evidence on the anti-asbestos movement.

Laura Lozanski, an occupational health and safety officer with the Canadian Association of University Teachers, was one of several people in Canada contacted by a man who identified himself as Rob Moore.

Moore met Lozanski in her Ottawa office in September and told her that he was working on documentary films about asbestos and its use in countries such as Thailand.

The CBC’s Julie Ireton, who has covered the use of asbestos in government buildings extensively, was also contacted.

Asbestos, a known carcinogen, has been condemned by the World Health Organization and is already banned in some 50 countries, but Thailand, Vietnam and others continue to import it. Canada only recently announced its intention to ban the deadly building material by 2018.

Looking for contacts, funding

The interview took about 45 minutes to an hour, Lozanski told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on Wednesday. Afterward, she drove him to his next appointment and recommended other people he should contact.

“He was looking to see if he could get funding, which is not unusual. It’s quite normal for people who are activists in this kind of genre to look for some kind of financial assistance to help them do their work,” Lozanski recalled.

“He was looking for contacts and who we were interacting with at the government level, and sort of trying to suss out what we normally would think people would suss out, so there wasn’t really any alarm bells.”

But in a civil case brought before Britain’s High Court of Justice filed in October, Moore and a corporate intelligence firm called K2 Intelligence Limited are accused of spending four years infiltrating a global network of anti-asbestos campaigners on behalf of an unknown client for the purposes of gathering information about their leadership, strategies and funding.

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Asbestos, a tough fibrous mineral, was used in many building products before 1990 because of its resistance to fire and heat and ability to absorb sound, and it was inexpensive. (CBC )

‘Is this a Hollywood movie?’

Moore’s name was originally protected by a court-ordered publication ban but became public in December. That’s when Lozanski saw his photo and realized it was the same person.

She said, ”When his name got lifted and we saw the picture, it was [him], absolutely. That’s the man that was sitting in my office.

‘I felt quite betrayed because this is a very serious issue. People are dying around the world from this ….’ - Laura Lozanski, anti-asbestos advocate

“First of all, this is certainly not funny … but it was like, ‘Is this a Hollywood movie? What is there to infiltrate?’ But at the same time I felt quite betrayed because this is a very serious issue. People are dying around the world from this, and those of us that have been entrenched in dealing with this issue certainly understand … that the industry has been pushing back to continue to mine and manufacture its products.”

The British civil case centres on Moore’s contact with three claimants in the case, including Laurie Kazan-Allen, co-ordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat based in London.

The first defendant was referred to in earlier court documents as “DNT” because of a publication ban, but Richard Meeran, the claimants’ solicitor, confirmed in an email that the ban has been lifted and the defendant’s name is Rob Moore.

The claims submitted have not been tested in court and the proceedings are ongoing. 

‘Granted extraordinary access’

According to a witness statement, Meeran submitted in November that ”the claimants took DNT into their confidence and he was granted extraordinary access to the [anti-asbestos network], including interviews with its leading protagonists, attendance at conferences and meetings restricted to the network, both in Britain and oversees, and joining email lists containing confidential communications between members of the network.”

‘There aren’t any state secrets to uncover, I can assure you. … There’s no money to be found. Everything we do is transparent.’ - Laura Lozanski

The claimants “were shocked and distressed to discover DNT’s deception and were extremely concerned over the extent of the damage,” Meeran claims.

Moore has disclosed some 35,000 documents comprising emails, word documents, texts and audio files to the claimants after he was ordered to do so in October, according to Meeran’s statement.

Those documents, according to the claim, lay out Moore’s strategy for infiltrating Allen’s network, and using her as a means of contacting others and getting invited to conferences. Chief among his objectives was to gather information on the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and its source of funding, the documents show.

Moore submitted in a witness statement that K2 paid him in excess of £460,000 (about $ 740,000 Cdn) in salaries and expenses between June 2012 and September 2016.

The claimants are alleging breach of confidence, misuse of private information and breach of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act.

‘Not going to operate in a sphere of paranoia’

Lozanski said she and others in the anti-asbestos movement aren’t deterred from their work.

“There aren’t any state secrets to uncover, I can assure you. We’re a global volunteer activist group. There’s no money to be found. Everything we do is transparent,” she said.

“We’re not going to operate in a sphere of paranoia. We’ve worked with very reputable journalists in the media over the years, so we’re going to continue to do that. However, what we will do, is with people that we don’t know, we will be sussing out more contacts. Do we know who this person is? We’re a pretty trusting group, and so it will make us a little bit more cautious, but certainly it’s not going to change, at all, the way in which we do our work.”

The next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31, when the scope of the injunction to be imposed on K2 Intelligence will be argued, Meeran said.

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