A STORM ON THE CANADIAN HORIZON
IN AN ERA WHEN SAFETY CONCERNS, conflict-of-interest and the cost of healthcare spiral ever higher, a curious bill surfaced a few months ago in Canada which, if passed, could eliminate both a patient’s medical freedom of choice and their civil liberties in the process. The bill’s acronym is C-51, and its’ intent, it would seem, is to put vitamins and other dietary supplements under further control of the Canadian government.
The question is, “Why?”
Vitamins, herbals and alternative treatments such as Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Chiropractic and Acupuncture have long been the poor stepchild of medicine, and they’ve often been under attack in both Canada and the United States. In the mid-90s, both Canadian and American consumers were forced to fight their respective health agencies — namely the FDA and Health Canada — in order to maintain access to certain natural products like dietary supplements.
The incredibly helpful amino acid-like supplement L-Carnitine, a vital weapon in the battle against heart disease, was removed from health food store shelves by Health Canada in the 90s, only to be doled out later as a “drug” in that country. The result? What once sold for $14 per 100 capsules prior to the government legislation became $80—$190 by prescription.
Numerous studies have shown not only the benefits of this supplement, but also that low levels of L-Carnitine are prevalent in patients who suffer from heart failure. Yet Health Canada increased the cost of this vital and unbelievably safe and inexpensive treatment by 10-15 times, making it impossible for thousands of Canadians to utilize it as an alternative to pharmaceuticals of both questionable efficacy and safety.
Not many in Canada could afford to spend $80-$180 for a dietary supplement — and with the Canadian government’s penchant for playing “big Brother,” news about the curative properties of L-Carnitine was almost nonexistent.
Think about this: L-Carnitine has been used for years in the treatment of cardiomyopathy in infants and children. How many children in Canada — not to mention the general population — could have been saved? It is this kind of myopic public policy that has put the health of the entire world at serious risk, but in Canada, the folly has a long history.
A Maclean’s Magazine story recounted the 1995 federal ban on melatonin and other natural supplements, and how Canadian Maria Pember, who used melatonin for insomnia, was forced travel to the U.S. to attain this safe alternative. "Everything I've read about melatonin says it is safe,” Pember told the magazine, “and I think Canadians should have the freedom to choose. This ban is stupid.”
Under C-51, dozens of products could be removed from the Canadian marketplace for no scientific reason whatsoever; while countless others could be forced to become prescription drugs. According to Vancouver attorney Shawn Buckley, the Act would also give broad discretionary powers to Health Canada to confiscate entire inventories of natural products under the aegis of “safety,” which could literally bankrupt businesses across the land.
The Bill would also give unbridled police state powers to the regulators and huge fines could be levied without any proof of harm.
Just as ominously, C-51 could allow Canada’s parliament to incorporate new laws and restrictions via Codex Alimentarius, the WTO and world trade agreements. Under language already incorporated into C-51, Codex and free trade regulations could circumvent any debate in Parliament be placed directly into Canadian law.
As shown in my film about Codex called WE BECOME SILENT, our commitments under NAFTA further tie Canada and the U.S. to the WTO, the WHO, and Codex Alimentarius. It is a web of solid strands designed to centralize control of healthcare through deals cut in the back rooms, far from the sunlight of public scrutiny. The bold mention of the C-51 “circumventing any debate” and surrendering sovereignty to an International body should send shivers up the spine of North America as a whole.
If it resurfaces in the Canadian Parliament in 2009 as expected, C-51 is a Bill that would test the true will of Canadians in this age of multinational corporate interests. In the extreme, it could make Canadians criminals and fugitives for merely wanting to take control of their own healthcare.
ON JUNE 15, 1993, in the midst of a great public debate in the U.S., the FDA Dietary Supplement Task Force published a report which actually said, “. . .what steps are necessary to ensure that the existence of dietary supplements on the market does not act as a disincentive for drug development?"
Our Canadian brothers and sisters seem to be headed towards the same buzzsaw that America did in 1993, when FDA wanted to make most dietary supplements into prescription drugs. Using history as a guide, it is clear that Health Ministers in Canada have followed the FDAs lead for years now.
In 1997, an extraordinary exchange about the banning of Melatonin — and dietary supplements in general — took place between Dr. Grant Hill, a physician and an MP who served Macleod from 1993-2004, and Health Minister David Dingwall. Dr. Hill strongly challenged the wisdom of the government’s ban on melatonin and other natural products and told those present “Canada's health police are taking away many Canadians' opportunities for natural herbs and vitamins without any evidence of their harm.” Stated Dr. Hill, “I would like to ask the health minister if he could reverse the onus so that his health police would have to produce evidence of harm before they take away those products that Canadians want.”
He hammered incessantly on the Health Minister and insisted that Health Canada respect the rights of consumers. “Melatonin,” he said, “is a natural hormone produced by the body. The health police have decided it is to be banned in Canada. If melatonin is harmful, then produce the evidence that it should be banned. However, if there is no evidence, why not let well informed consumers decide for themselves here in Canada?”
Health Minister David Dingwall, however, didn’t see it that way and his response reflected the philosophy of “the Canadian Nanny state,” where “government knows best.” Said Dingwall, “I think the member has the answer backwards. The onus is on the importer and on the manufacturer of the product to prove to Canadians and to the regulator beyond a shadow of a doubt that the product to come on the market is safe. That is the fundamental raison d'être of Health Canada, to ensure that all products that come on the market are safe for Canadians.”
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt?” Is this Health Canada’s policy with regard to pharmaceutical medicines also?
Still, more than a decade later, this fundamental policy choice by Health Canada still stands — and the agency is looking to expand its power to regulate dietary supplements even further in Canada.
Evidently, the libertarian users of dietary supplements threaten the bureaucratic notions of control — and so the Canadian government is fighting back. Consumer and Health Advocates, however, worry that C-51 is designed to limit their medical freedom of choice and ensure that once and for all, pharmaceutical dominance over healthcare in Canada will be the law of the land.
If C-51 passes, they may be correct.