[Ip-health] "Access-to-medicine bill gets grim prognosis" (Globe & Mail, Oct 26, 2010)

Richard Elliott relliott at aidslaw.ca
Tue Oct 26 18:39:02 PDT 2010

Parliamentary committee hearings are underway in Canada on a proposed bill to reform Canada's law on compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals for export, implementing the August 30th, 2003 Decision of the WTO General Council.  Below is an article from today's Globe and Mail (online edition) reporting on what's happening with the bill.  For more information, see the webpage of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network at www.aidslaw.ca/camr.

GLOBE & MAIL (online)

Access-to-medicine bill gets grim prognosis 
Gloria Galloway 

Ottawa- Globe and Mail Update 
Published Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 5:44PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 5:49PM EDT

A bill to fix a heavily flawed five-year-old plan to sell cheap Canadian medicines to impoverished countries is set to die because the New Democrat who sponsored it has resigned and the Conservatives are unlikely to allow another MP to take it over - a courtesy that was once extended to Stephen Harper.

The House of Commons must give unanimous consent for a bill that has been abandoned by one member to be sponsored by another. In this case, when Judy Wasylycia-Leis quit her job as a federal MP to run for municipal politics in Winnipeg, her New Democrat colleague Brian Masse was willing to take over Bill C-393, which aimed to reform the Canadian Access to Medicines Regime.

There is precedent for such a handover. In 1997, when Mr. Harper quit his seat in the back benches of the Reform Party caucus, the House unanimously agreed to let Preston Manning take over his bill to establish the terms and conditions that must apply to a referendum relating to the separation of Quebec from Canada.

But Richard Elliott, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said Tuesday he has been told there will be no such goodwill extended with regard to Ms. Wasylycia-Leis's bill.

"We've been told directly by a Conservative member of Parliament that we can be guaranteed that the bill will not survive a motion before the House of Commons for a new sponsor," Mr. Elliott said.

Conservative officials would not say Tuesday whether they were prepared to allow the bill to change hands.

Canada's Access to Medicines Regime was introduced by the Liberal government of Paul Martin in 2005. It was meant to follow through on Jean Chrétien's Pledge to Africa by allowing generic drug makers to create one-time versions of essential brand-name medicines for sale to the poorest parts of the planet.

But it was hopelessly complicated from the start and, over the past five years, just one Canadian generic drug company has managed to use it to send a single type of AIDS medicine to a single country - Rwanda.

Ms. Wasylyicia-Leis had hoped to untangle many of the snares with her legislation. But the reforms she proposed are not popular with brand-name drug companies. Nor are they supported by the Conservatives, who say they violate intellectual property rights. 

There are also a number of Liberal MPs who oppose her bill. Marc Garneau, the industry critic, has argued that research-driven industries will not stay in Canada if the products of their labours can be reproduced and sold cheaply overseas.

Still, the bill had made it through second reading in the House of Commons and is now before the industry, science and technology committee.

Mr. Elliot he said he fears the Conservative members of the committee will make changes that will pull the teeth out of the bill at its next meeting on Thursday. "I think the writing is absolutely on the wall that they will be bringing forth amendments at the committee that are aimed at deleting the core provisions of Bill C-393, the core provisions that are aimed at fixing the current Canadian Access to Medicines Regime."

The Industry committee heard testimony about the bill on Tuesday including a presentation from a group called the National Advocacy Committee of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, which said it is time to fulfill the promise made to the world's poor.

Even if the bill makes it through the committee in a workable form, it will likely die in the House.

Mr. Elliott sent a letter last week to the House Leaders of the four political parties reminding them of the time that Mr. Harper's bill survived by being passed on to Mr. Manning. "All that is required is a commitment to following precedent, a belief in democratic principles and a little courtesy," he said in the letter.

James Kusie, a spokesman for Conservative House Leader John Baird, said Tuesday that his office had yet to receive Mr. Elliott's letter. "The fact that it was sent to the media prior to our Minister receiving it or having a chance to review it says something," Mr. Kusie said.

As the law stands, companies that wish to reproduce brand-name drugs for poor countries may submit an application that covers cover no more than one country, one drug and one quantity of medicine at a time.

The legislation also applies only to a limited list of medicines, many of which developing countries can already obtain more cheaply from India, and the process of adding a drug takes several months.

Ms. Wasylycia-Leis's bill would extend the scope of the generic licences, eliminate the narrow list of eligible drugs, end the two-year time limit on compulsory licences and cut through international red tape.

"Lives hang in the balance," Mr. Masse said. "And we decide the fate of men, women and children and whether they are going to get treatment from diseases that they are suffering from and dying from."



A correction:  Mr. Kusie, spokesman for Conservative House Leader John Baird is simply wrong when he claims that our letter was sent to the media before it was sent to Mr. Baird.  

In fact, we sent our letter to all House Leaders last week - it was both emailed and faxed to Mr. Baird's office on Wednesday, October 20th.  The letter was addressed and sent to all the parties' House Leaders.  It was also copied, by email and fax, to the Prime Minister and each of the opposition party leaders.  The letter was NOT sent to media before it was sent to all the House Leaders. 

We've received no response for 6 days from Mr. Baird, even though he was fully aware that Bill C-393 has been and is under active study and debate by the Industry Committee.  He was fully aware of this because the issue has been raised already at least twice at meetings of House Leaders over the last few weeks, and furthermore, we have sent emails to all MPs repeatedly drawing their attention to the important study of the bill underway at the Industry Committee.

It's a travesty that any party or Member of Parliament would lack the basic decency and courtesy to let a bill on such a fundamentally important issue die on a procedural technicality -- especially when there is an MP who is willing to take the bill forward in the House of Commons, a majority of MPs already voted months ago to study this bill and the Industry Committee has spent time and taxpayers' money to study the bill.

Richard Elliott
Executive Director
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Richard Elliott
Executive Director | Directeur général
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network | Réseau juridique canadien VIH/sida 
+1 416 595-1666 ext. 229
relliott at aidslaw.ca | www.aidslaw.ca

Children Can't Wait! Dying for Drugs in Developing Countries - see www.aidslaw.ca/camr  
Les enfants ne peuvent attendre! Le manque de médicaments tue, dans les pays en développement - voir www.aidslaw.ca/rcam  

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