[Ip-health] "Clement attempts to block AIDS drug bill" (Toronto Star, 24 March 2011)
relliott at aidslaw.ca
Sat Mar 26 08:14:55 PDT 2011
March 24, 2011
Clement attempts to block AIDS drug bill
By Tanya Talaga, Queen's Park Bureau
The New Democratic Party is accusing Industry Minister Tony Clement of inappropriately using his influence to try and kill a bill that would force Ottawa to deliver on a promise to send life-saving medication to poor nations.
Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, Bill C-393, is dangling in the Senate after being passed with support from members of all parties in the House of Commons.
The bill will die if the Liberal non-confidence motion passes Friday and the government falls.
Supporters of the NDP private member's bill are outraged Clement appears to have interfered and sent a letter to Tory senators who are currently debating the legislation. They say Clement's memo points out reasons why the Tory-dominated Senate should prevent the bill from becoming law.
However, Clement's press secretary, Heather Hume, said it is standard procedure for a minister and his colleagues to communicate when a bill is before a house.
"That is what happened," she said. "Our position is C-393 will do nothing to address the real issue of accessing medicine in the developing world."
There are 40 Conservative-sponsored bills set to expire if an election is called, along with almost 500 pieces of legislation from opposition parties.
NDP MP Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) said they have obtained a memo from Clement to all Conservative senators and staff that outlines reasons why Bill C-393 should be thrown out.
The memo states: "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."
All along, the Conservatives have tried to stop this legislation from moving forward, Dewar told the Star.
It is wrong for an elected member of Parliament to try and get appointed, unelected senators to kill a piece of legislation that has been passed by a democratic House, Dewar added.
"The way in which he did this, to influence unelected senators to kill a bill, is obviously anti-democratic and it is completely inappropriate to use his influence in that matter," Dewar said.
After an eight-year fight, Bill C-393 was passed by Parliament on March 9 by Liberal, NDP, Bloc Québécois and even some Conservative MPs.
The bill allows generic drug makers to supply medication to developing nations in order for those countries to fight diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Canadian generic drug giant Apotex Inc. has promised to use the legislation to make children's anti-AIDS medication - drugs relief organizations say are desperately needed.
The World Health Organization says 15 million people, including two million children, need antiretroviral AIDS medication.
Clement's memo goes on to say that CAMR is basically useless.
"Most importantly, Canadian generics are some of the most expensive in the world," it said.
"With C-393 or not, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the developing world will direct their precious resources to cheaper drugs coming from places like India and Asia. (This) is an irrelevant measure to address the problem of a lack of drugs in Africa."
A grassroots effort led by lawyer Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has spread across the country. Physicians, activists and Juno-winning rock star K'naan have all publicly supported the bill.
Clement's letter to senators, sent Wednesday, is nonsensical, said Elliott.
"All they seem to be saying are two things that make no sense. One, if you pass this bill you'll see a loss of many jobs in the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Canada," said Elliott. "(But) there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that."
Second, Clement seems to believe no country would buy these medications from Canada because our generic drug prices are so high, said Elliott.
"But the price on the Canadian market has nothing to do with the price Canadian generics would offer developing nations," he said.
It is hypocritical for the Conservatives to try and kill legislation brought forward by others, added Dewar.
"Why bother having private members bring forward any legislation if the default is the Senate? If they don't like something they kill it?" Dewar asked.
Executive Director | Directeur général
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network | Réseau juridique canadien VIH/sida
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