Harper v. Canada: Last Act of Conservative Government is to Kill Life-Saving Generic Drugs Bill for Developing Countries
One of the most infuriating pieces of doublespeak over the first weekend of the election campaign has been the Harper Government™’s assertion, through its various Twitter minions in particular, that the Liberal “coalition” killed off a bill that would have sent life-saving generic HIV and malaria drugs to poor people in Africa. This is obviously nonsensical because we have documentary proof that the Conservatives blocked the bill in the Senate. Knowing full well that the vast majority of Canadians think poor people should not be denied access to necessary medicine, the Conservatives are attempting to shift the responsibility onto the shoulders of their political opponents.
The last Harper Government™ barrage against the bill was a secret letter sent from minister Tony Clement to Tory Senators, which, incredibly, openly states that the government opposes the bill because the drug companies asked them to. Of course they did. The drug companies care more about profit than human lives. The Harper Government™ cares more about its corporate buddies than human lives. So the government asked Conservative senators to block speedy passage of the bill by its supporters, who could see the writing on the wall as well as anyone else and were urging that the legislation be passed before the government fell.
The letter is a two-parter. The first part is written by Nichole Beck, assistant to Senator Larry Smith, which describes a meeting with drug company executives who were “all against” the bill. Attached is the list of problems with the bill identified by Clement. Some of them might actually be legitimate (I’m not an expert), although the main thing the bill attempts to do is restrict the ability of patent-holding pharmaceutical companies (like the ones Smith met, I assume) to stall and veto drug purchases through cumbersome licensing requirements. Certainly if the goal is to have Canadian and Indian drug-makers compete for a generic market, the Indian ones might win. But to now suggest that C-393 was a casualty of the coalition is deceitful given that the government didn’t want it passed in the first place.
And the biggest argument of all, that this argument will damage the Canadian economy, is clearly ridiculous. We’re talking about bulk purchases of drugs for African countries that can’t afford the drugs otherwise. By definition, this can’t hurt the market for the patented drugs, because their other buyers will be paying full price and the African recipients weren’t in the market in the first place. If it’s true that they wouldn’t buy Canadian drugs anyway, then the objection is especially meaningless. The rest of the list consists of a series of vague hypothetical “what-ifs” intended mostly for scaremongering, not serious policy analysis.
Towards that end, reference is made to a group called Health Partners International, which encourages patent-holding Big Pharma to donate drugs (and write it off their taxes), as opposed to forcing Big Pharma either to produce the drugs cheaply themselves or allow a generic company to do it for them. HPI Canada was until recently chaired by Jake Epp, a corporate executive and Mulroney-era Cabinet minister. It’s hardly a Conservative front group — Trudeau’s minister Judy Erola also sits on the board — but Clement explicitly points out Epp as a sort of endorsement.
Anyhow, the smoking gun:
Dear Conservative Senate Staff & Senators,
Senator Larry Smith had the opportunity to meet with pharmaceutical industry leaders in the Montreal area, all are against bill C-393 as it is extremely damaging to our ability to motivate companies to patent new drugs in Canada. Many jobs in Canada’s research and development sector, stand to be lost as a result of this bill. I have attached the documents prepared by Mr. Tony Clement.
Nichole A. Beck
Vote Rationale C-393 CAMR
Under the current CAMR system, the process includes the following important steps:
- The product must be identified as safe and effective for human consumption.
- The target country/population must be clearly defined and the request must come from the target government itself.
- A tracking system must be in place to monitor the drugs flow from Canada to the target country/population to ensure consumption by intended group.
- That under CAMR, only THAT drug identified for export can be sent to the intended country/population.
Stephen Lewis and his friends have said that these checks are the “problem” and need to be removed. In fact, these steps are vital. If they are removed, the following consequences can result:
- Instead of one shipment of a particular drug, an advocate can be granted permission to break patents of multiple drugs and ship them to multiple locations, potentially for commercial purposes.
- Drugs that are not certified by Health Canada as being safe and effective
- Drugs that are not certified by Health Canada as being safe and effective could be shipped to unsuspecting populations, to their detriment.
- Drugs shipped under CAMR could be redirected to the black market with proceeds going to non-humanitarian causes such as weapons.
- If drugs are shipped without the consent of the home government, the drugs could run against their domestic laws and traditions.
- If C-393 is passed, Canada’s CAMR will be out of step with our international trade obligations. And if current patents are threatened, the patent holders will leave Canada seeking shelter in countries which value patent protection. The loss to Canadian R&D will be significant.
Most importantly, Canadian Generics are some of the most expensive in the world. With C-393 or not, NGOs in the developing world will direct their precious resources to cheaper drugs coming from places like India and Asia. Testimony was clear — this is an irrelevant measure to address the problem of a lack of drugs in Africa. Committee was clear that the solution to this problem is multifaceted and to that end, the Government of Canada has:
- Launched the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative
- Made several contributions to organizations such as Health Partners International Canada (Jake Epp’s group) who in turn have sent millions of doses of free drugs from Canadian pharmaceutical companies to the developing world
- Supported the Global Fund, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and the Clinton Foundation, to name a few. Please contact Minister Oda’s office for details.
In all, close to $2.1 billion in International Aid flows to the developing world each year from Canada.
The bottom line is that C-393 lessens Canadian Patent Protection and vital health, safety, and verification of non-commercial purpose checks. Worst of all, it won’t solve the problem. As such, Government members should oppose C-393.