may 2008

click here for permalink May 12, 2008

stop c-51Last week, my friend heard about a bill which is currently being debated in the Canadian House of Commons (which is like Congress, for my American readers). It's called Bill C-51 and it was introduced on April 8, 2008 by Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement who took office in 2006, when it was widely publicized that he owned 25% of a Toronto company called Prudential Chem Inc., a maker of chemical compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.

In the fall of 2006, amid criticism and accusations of conflict of interest from the media and several MPs, Clement apparently turned his shares over to Vikram Khurana, the founder and president of Prudential Chem. and, in what may or may not be an interesting side note, MacLeans reported in February 2007 that Vikram Khurana had received a government appointment to the Board of Directors of the Asia Pacific Foundation, a "think-tank" dedicated to strategic research on Canada's "economic, political and social relations" with Asia.

My friend and I spent several hours on Tuesday reading everything we could find online about Bill C-51, including the full text of the version that was read in the House of Commons in April (at LEGISinfo, the Library of Parliament web site). At that point, the mainstream media hadn't published a word about it but several health product advocates like Natural News had already become alarmed and were urging citizens to write letters to stop the bill, providing contact information for government officials.

This excerpt is from an article on the Natural News summarizing some of the dangers of Bill C-51:

"Among the changes proposed are radical alterations to key terminology, including replacing the word "drug" with "therapeutic product" throughout the Act, thereby giving the Canadian government broad-reaching powers to regulate the sale of all herbs, vitamins, supplements and other items... [It] seeks to outlaw up to 60 percent of natural health products currently sold in Canada... The Act also changes the definition of the word "sell" to include anyone who gives such therapeutic products to someone else."

I helped my friend write a personal letter to the Health Minister, the Prime Minister and our local Member of Parliament. Here's an excerpt:

"I am writing to you with regards to Bill C-51. If this bill is passed it will have a disastrous impact on my daily life. I have been diagnosed and living with Bipolar illness for the past seven years. Over the years, I was given every mood stabilizer, antidepressant, anti-psychotic and heart medication (to counteract the potentially deadly side effects of Lithium combined with other mood stabilizers).

Last year, I was hospitalized due to complications from a thyroid deficiency caused by the combination of Lithium and four other psychoactive medications that my doctor had prescribed to me. In November 2007, I was introduced to a supplement that drastically changed my quality of life for the better. I feel hopeful, optimistic and I am able to think clearly for the first time in seven years. It's like waking up from a coma and I feel like I have been given back my life.

I never want to see the inside of a mental institution again. I don't want to go back to feeling suicidal. I want to have a future. I want to laugh. I want to wake up in the morning and feel joyful, blessed, hopeful — human. I finally received the help I needed and emerged from this darkness and now I'm terrified that, if this bill is passed, my life will end. I am asking you to please vote against Bill C-51 to protect our basic human rights and allow our access to natural health products."

On Tuesday evening, we discovered that 20 groups had already been created on Facebook in opposition to the bill with over 10,000 members between them. Rallies were planned in Ottawa and Toronto within the week to coincide with the scheduled second reading of the bill on May 9, 2008.

On Saturday, we went to a rally in Vancouver and volunteered to help spread the word in whatever way we can. Someone from the NHPPA told us that they've been going around to health food stores and pharmacies to make sure the businesses that would be most impacted are aware of the bill and to ask them to help spread the word to their customers. Unfortunately, employees of at least one grocery chain that was recently bought by Whole Foods stated that they weren't allowed to disseminate information about the bill to their customers.

Reading the debates and speeches going on in Parliament, it's clear that there are concerns among the MPs as well. One being that the bill would likely allow direct marketing of pharmaceutical medications to consumers, which is something that, even though the US has allowed drug advertising since 2001, Canada has been strongly opposed to. Of course, there are loopholes now that allow advertising drugs without specifically mentioning the drug and the regulation only applies to Canadian media anyway, as if you could somehow live here and not read American magazines or watch American TV.

Anyway, C-51 is the scariest thing I've read since the Military Commissions Act and the scariest part is that, even after a weekend of protests in most of the major cities in Canada, it's still hardly getting any media coverage. Maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise, given that our major media outlets are even more consolidated than in the US but the implications are so enormous it's hard to believe there isn't a loud, dissenting voice to be heard.

If this bill somehow manages to get passed because the public wasn't sufficiently alerted to the dangers it represents, it will only be a matter of time before our neighbors to the south see similar legislation introduced, wrapped in the guise of protecting American citizens against the menace of contaminated foreign products, rushed through Congress based on our pathetic precedent (and what a role reversal that would be).