Paul Formby’s courage, intelligence, and dedication to the worker’s right to a healthy environment in the workplace were tested and proven long before his arrival at Thetford.
After graduating in philosophy from the University of British Columbia, he headed north to Clinton Creek in the Yukon. Here he found the noise and dust of an asbestos mill – not the hoped -for excitement and adventure. Because no one else wanted the job, and because he was tired of constantly picking loose asbestos fiber out of his beard, he took charge of the union’s safety and health committee.
He quickly found that, in his words, “as far as the company was concerned, asbestos dust levels were a taboo subject.” When the company and the federal government repeatedly failed to produce the information he requested on Clinton Creek’s asbestos dust levels, Formby embarked on an intensive self-education in UBC’s medical library, and his studies there soon led him to Dr. Irving Selikoff, the head of the Mount Sinai Medical School’s department of environmental medicine in New York and one of the world’s foremost experts on asbestos disease.
Given the results of the hundreds of samples Formby sent to Mount Sinai and Dr. Selikoff, the Confederation of National Trade Unions in Montreal decided, under Formby’s direction, to urge Mount Sinai experts to visit Thetford. It was Formby who convinced them to go and investigate. Their report forced the Quebec government to set up the Beaudry enquiry, detailed above.