Warning: Health Canada is Dangerous
The Health Protection Branch wants you sickly… their friends like you that way.
On August 14, 1997, Ontario Justice John McCart ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not guarantee our freedom to engage in “trivial” and potentially dangerous activities such as cannabis consumption. To justify his ruling against Christopher Clay, Judge McCart cited the American case of NORML v. Bell et al., “Congressional action must be upheld as long as a rational basis still exists for the classification. The continuing questions about marijuana and its effects make the classification rational.”
Judge McCart also cited Rodriguez v. BC (1983), “Unlike the situation with partial decriminalization of abortion, the decriminalization of attempted suicide cannot be said to represent a consensus by Parliament or by Canadians in general, that the autonomy interest of those wishing to kill themselves is paramount to the state interest in protecting the life of its citizens.”
Judge McCart’s ruling against Clay was not unlike the April 1997 ruling of BC Justice Drake, who dismissed the constitutional challenge of Victoria hemp shop owner Ian Hunter saying, “As to liberty and security of the person, in my opinion the two statutes contain reasonable prohibitions against certain conduct, and these are not unduly broad in their application. There is no need to test them against section 1 of the Charter, which only comes into play where a truly fundamental right is in question and any restriction upon it may be certainly unreasonable.”
What all this legalese and rationalization means is that, while there are “continuing questions” about the safety of activities which aren’t “truly fundamental”, the state may arbitrarily criminalize citizens who engage in these “trivial” activities, in order to protect them from themselves.
In light of the sweeping ramifications of Judge McCart’s ruling against Christopher Clay and Justice Drake’s ruling against Ian Hunter, we thought it appropriate to revisit the degree to which Health Canada protects the health of Canadian citizens, and the sort of “protection” we might expect in the future.
Sweeping Ramifications (under the carpet)
What do I mean by “sweeping ramifications”? If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms only guarantees our freedom to engage in “truly fundamental” activities, then what activities does the Charter guarantee?
There are continuing questions about the safety of our air. A recent study by American, Czech and Polish scientists found that Polish babies whose mothers were exposed to high levels of pollutant particles while pregnant were born with smaller heads and bodies, and run an increased risk of cancer and learning disabilities.
There are continuing questions about our drinking water. A study conducted for Health Canada by the University of Toronto and the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation found that drinking water treated with chlorine could be causing more than 500 cases of cancer and about 140 deaths in Ontario each year.
There are continuing questions about the foods we eat. It is estimated that about three-quarters of the food eaten in North America has been “chemically altered” before it gets to store shelves. More than 400 additives and 1,500 flavourings are permitted in Canada. Although Canada is recognized as having one of the world’s safest food supplies, there are at least 80 additives that are known to potentially pose a health risk.
There are continuing questions about how safely we defecate. The American Society of Microbiology reports that millions of Americans routinely neglect to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. Dirty hands are an extremely common means of spreading diseases, ranging from colds to illnesses that cause diarrhea and other intestinal problems. In restaurants, one food handler with dirty hands can make dozens of patrons sick.
There are continuing questions about conventional medicine. According to the US Office of Technological Assessment, at least 65% of drugs and therapies in use there have never been subjected to controlled double-blind studies.
Fortunately for us, Justice Drake and Judge McCart have upheld our right to contaminated air, food and water, because these are fundamental needs, and we have Health Canada to “protect” us from engaging in questionable trivial activities, like taking unsafe drugs, or do we?
Oh, you thought those fees went to safetytesting?
The very day Judge McCart struck down Chris Clay’s challenge, Health Canada confessed that not all foods and drugs allowed on our shelves have been tested. It seems a skin medication containing a dangerous steroid wound up in Canadian drug stores because Health Canada usually takes drug manufacturers’ claims at face value.
Health Canada only took notice when the US Food and Drug Administration found the skin product contained the steroid clobetasol, and warned that use of large amounts or long-term use can cause serious side-effects, including hypertension, obesity, diabetes, hairlessness, acne, osteoporosis, weakening of the bones, impaired wound healing, decreased resistance to infection, muscular wasting and behavioral changes such as mania and psychosis. The FDA also warned that it is potentially hazardous to stop taking the drug, because that can cause a severe flareup of psoriasis.
Jim Slobotea, an official with the Health Protection Branch in Vancouver, said it would not be feasible to test every one of the close to 2,000 prescription and non-prescription drugs introduced in Canada every year. “We do have labs and we do do testing on products, but obviously we are not in a position to test every product,” he said. “The problem is one of resources ? do you expect us to test every product on the market?”
Apparently not. In a move that scientists say dooms Canada’s health system, the federal government is shutting down major lab research in the food and drug divisions of Canada’s Health Protection Branch. The government plans instead to rely solely on testing conducted by other countries and by pharmaceutical companies and food “manufacturers.”
The danger of relying on the pharmaceutical industry to police itself was made all too clear on August 18, when a US court found that Dow Chemical had knowingly deceived women by hiding information about the health risks of silicone breast implants. Several lawsuits have also filed in Canada. They include a class-action suit in British Columbia representing about 1,600 women and a class-action in Ontario and Quebec, in which Bristol-Myers Squibb settled for $28 million.
That’d better be synthetic, or you’re in trouble!
Repeating a glaring double-standard, new foods, drugs and medical devices are considered safe until proven exceptionally dangerous, while time-tested unpatentable herbs like cannabis are considered dangerous until proven unrealistically safe.
Dr Michele Brill-Edwards, a prescription-drug expert with the HPB for 15 years, resigned in 1996 because she wanted to speak our publicly about how the HPB is “excessively lax in regulating high-risk products such as blood and prescription drugs but unjustifiably strict in cracking down on herbal products and nutritional supplements.”
When she first saw mistakes and bad decisions at the branch, she attributed them to “simple incompetence or inattention”. Later she became convinced there is a systemic problem. “The branch,” she said, is “more influenced by (pharmaceutical) industry forces than by consumer needs.”
While still employed at the branch, Brill-Edward’s stated her reservations about the speed with which potent drugs with serious side effects, such as the migraine drug Impitrex, were rushed through the review process. She resigned in January 1996 when she concluded no one was listening. She joins Pierre Blias, a chemist who earlier resigned from the HPB over qualms about the Merne breast implant.
“The branch is quite open about the fact that it does not do any testing on product,” Brill-Edwards said. “It relies completely on the manufacture’s commitment to the consumer that the product is what it says it is.”
Dangerous until Proven Profitable
Consider the HPB’s position on melatonin. Melatonin can not be sold, says the HPB, because “the proper studies have not been done.” Melatonin is a naturally occurring brain chemical. Though it will not approve melatonin for retail sale because it is untested, the HPB will not be requesting any tests. An agency representative told CBC that none of the drug companies would pay to test something lacking profit potential. In other words, some substances are dangerous until proven profitable.
This dangerous until proven profitable paradigm was confirmed when the Ottawa Citizen discovered that Health Canada has discussed taxing legal marijuana. The idea of taxing marijuana was raised in a November 1996 memorandum from the director of the Bureau of Drug Surveillance to Health Canada’s Policy and Scientific Affairs branch. “There is a lot we don’t know about cannabis and its effects, and what we do know is not reassuring, but neither is it cause for excessive alarm,” read an August 1995 Health Canada discussion paper.
If it’s good enough for the USA, It’s good enough forus!
When Health Canada officials say they intend to rely on tests conducted in other countries what they really mean is that they intend to take their orders from the US Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA has a long history of bias against alternative medicine and has pursued a heavy-handed enforcement agenda against herbs and dietary supplements for over 30 years. Since the 1950s the FDA has spied on health-care providers who employed medications and approaches which are not considered acceptable by mainstream medicine.
The American Medical Association (AMA) dominates ideas within the US medical community. If the AMA dislike a particular health care approach, they work to prohibit these practices in hospitals and suspend the medical licenses of any doctor who uses them. They have often been able to rely upon state licensing boards and legislatures, and even the US Congress, to pass laws outlawing natural healing methods.
Many new health care discoveries have remained underground. Inexpensive, non-toxic and unpatentable natural healing methods have never been seriously or honestly evaluated by the AMA-FDA pharmaceutical-dominated medical establishment. Instead, SWAT teams have been called in to simply arrest and jail the offending practitioners, seize their files, mailing lists and other property, and burn their books.
Natural health advocates have been assaulted for legal technicalities or for no reason at all, while big pharmaceutical and surgical device companies literally get away with murder. Nutritional supplements with proven benefits have been prohibited without evidence of any public health hazards, while synthetic drugs and surgical devices which have never been proven effective are approved in spite of demonstrated deadly side effects. Even when evidence is found that the pharmacy companies completely fabricated their FDA-approval data, nothing is done.
At least 80% of conventional medical practices have never been subjected to double blind studies, but in spite of the deadly problems associated with costly “FDA-approved” drugs and medical devices, we never read of major pharmaceutical companies being raided by SWAT teams, their bank accounts seized, their offices, laboratories and homes of officers being raided and ransacked, or their drug inventories being confiscated and impounded.
The US has been busily passing more oppressive amendments to their Food and Drug Act, all sponsored by long-time FDA supporters and recipients of pharmaceutical campaign donations. The FDA has the power to embargo and destroy any imported product without proving that it is threat to the public health, and they may issue their own subpoenas and undertake warrantless searches, seizures, and electronic surveillance, all based upon mere suspicion, without the need for court approval.
Coming soon: ID Tattoos!
American legislation has been proposed which would establish a national registry and tracking system for the vaccination of all infants and children, a prelude to the Orwellian “Smart Card” or “Health Identity Card”, with total control over health care decisions by a centralized medical Big Brother. These bills make social workers the new health care police, calling upon every home in America, door to door, to investigate whether or not every child in residence has had all mandatory vaccines. If not, the child may be blocked from enrollment in school, or the parents charged with child abuse, their children forcibly taken away by the state for adoption.
Already, legal attacks for “child neglect and abuse” have been mounted by social workers and medical authorities against parents opting for home-birth, and against parents refusing to inoculate their children with potentially dangerous experimental vaccines. Even breast-feeding mothers have had infants ripped from their arms, being charged with “child sexual abuse”, by social workers who did not approve of breast-feeding beyond two years.
A Glimmer of Health Freedom
Opposing the FDA health Gestapo is the US Health Freedom Act. This bill would restrict the FDA on some of the above matters, preserving the rights of Americans to make their own essential health decisions regarding vitamins, herbs and food supplements. A few states, such as Alaska and Washington, have already passed specific legislation to protect natural health-care methods.
According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, about a third of all American adults use unconventional medical treatments, such as chiropractic, therapeutic massage, relaxation techniques, special diets and megavitamins. Americans are increasingly attracted to non-toxic natural healing methods, as an alternative to the cut, burn and poison methods of conventional medicine.
In response to growing pressure from a more informed public, the FDA opened the Office of Alternative Medicine, and in 1994, enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Under the DSHEA, a dietary supplement is deemed dangerous if it presents a “significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury.” and the government bears the burden of proving that the supplement is dangerous. By this criteria, cannabis should be on US health food store shelves at any time.
Herbs? Vitamins? They’re all drugs to me!
Countering these encouraging developments, Canada’s federal government is moving to reclassify herbs, vitamins and other alternative medicines as drugs, and to implement “cost recovery” programs which would impose huge fees on the natural health products industry.
What is the official definition of a drug? “Any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder, abnormal physical state, or its symptoms, in human beings or animals, or restoring, correcting or modifying organic functions in human beings or animals.” That covers everything from garlic to granola.
Health Canada is now demanding that herbs have a Drug Identification Number (DIN), which they claim indicates that the product is both safe and effective. In fact it does neither.
According to the previously mentioned ex-HPB physician, Dr Michelle Brille Edwards, the process of granting a DIN is nothing more than a rubber-stamp exercise taking a few minutes. No specific tests or procedures are done on the product being DINed, yet it can take months to get a DIN and costs the manufacturer $720 to apply and $560 to renew the DIN for each and every herbal product annually. There are no studies showing that DINs have any bearing on safety, efficacy or mortality from drugs.
To get a DIN, a remedy must undergo extremely expensive clinical testing, affordable only by large manuafacters. The requirement for clinical proof of efficacy effectively bars natural remedies such as herbs and tinctures because, unlike pharmaceutical drugs, most herbs can not be patented. Companies that make, distribute or sell medicinal herbs must also now comply with a set of Health Canada standards dubbed “Good Manufacturing Practices” or GMP, before they are issued an annual license.
The HPB “cost recovery” plan is expected to reduce the availability of natural supplements by about 50% within a year and make the remaining supplements much more expensive. The government’s own impact studies indicate that many health food stores will disappear within two years.
Sick people are good for business
Why is Health Canada suddenly concerned about herbal remedies? A rash of deaths? Reports of wide spread illness? NDP MP Svend Robinson, who tabled a motion in the House in early April calling for a moratorium on any more restrictions on natural remedies, suspects that the big pharmaceutical firms pressured the Liberals on this issue, just as they did on drug patent legislation. “Let’s face it,” says Robinson, “natural health products have the potential to become a lucrative market. And I assume the pharmaceutical industry is keen to get in on that market.”
Canada’s doctors are also supportive of new alternative medicine regulations. They are concerned that government might become too preoccupied with keeping people healthy and ignore the public health-care system that treats them once they become sick. The issue was raised at the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting, where physicians made it clear that they are worried their influence will wane if governments embrace preventive health care.
Said CMA president Dr Judy Kazimirski, “it’s possible governments will leave the health-care system dramatically underfunded, while pumping new funds into untested programs that attempt to help certain groups ? such as the poor, the jobless, the uneducated, and aboriginals ? to avoid becoming ill.” Heaven forfend. I guess the CMA would rather we pump new funds into untested programs that attempt to cure the rich after they have become ill. They call this a “two-tiered” health care system.
We don’t like that kind of talk aroundhere
In an effort to guarantee their market share of sick Canadians, Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons (COPS) across the country, especially in Quebec and Ontario, continue to persecute doctors who practice complementary or preventive medicine. In Ontario there was the well publicized case of Dr Jozef Krop who was ostracized for prescribing anticandida treatments as well as vitamin and mineral supplements.
While some provinces like Nova Scotia are making progress integrating holistic therapies into the medical mainstream by having alternative medicine practitioners on their provincial COPS committees, Quebec has decided to go in the opposite direction. The Q-COPS have never tolerated chiropractic and naturopathic services, frequently attacking both professions in their public literature and media pronouncements.
In Quebec, any physician attempting to alert the general public to the side effects and documented dangers of vaccinations is quickly silenced. The Q-COPS monitor the media and attack any deviations to medical orthodoxy. Quebec’s physicians are not even permitted to speak or write about complementary medicine. For example, Dr Josee Rancourt was prosecuted for writing the foreword in a book about a natural cancer therapy (The Breuss Cancer Cure). Without patient complaints, without a trial of any kind and without even a hearing, Dr Rancourt was forced by her medical licensing board in Quebec to disassociate herself from the naturopathic Opal Clinic offering alternative cancer therapy.
A Brief Reprieve
Whatever inspired Health Canada’s new initiatives, it is clear they are acting under conflicting interests. Under pressure from alternative remedy importers and suppliers, Ottawa announced the formation of an expert advisory panel to study the issue and moved the DIN/GMP registration deadline from July 1997 to January 1998.
Alternative health promoters are justifiably skeptical. There have twice been expert advisory panels on herbs and in both cases they published a report and then did nothing. And let us not forget the now defunct Standing Committee on Health which reviewed Canada’s illicit drug policy through 1996 and early 1997,without ever issuing a report.
While Health Canada will no longer be able to guarantee the safety of any of the new foods and drugs that they, in their wisdom, allow us to consume, they have plans to “protect” us from preventive medicinal practices that have been shown over the expanse of time to be safe and reliable. The way things are going, every Canadian consumer will soon be unable to avoid engaging in trivial, potentially hazardous, activities.
It’s been said that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Personally, I would sooner take my chances with cannabis, a herb that Judge McCart concluded is “relatively harmless”, than allow Health Canada, the HPB, the FDA, the AMA, the CMA or the pharmaceutical companies that control them to pick my poison for me.
If you value your personal autonomy and freedom of choice, please contact the following:
Recommended World Wide Web resources:
Canadian Coalition for Health Freedom http://www.naturallink.com/cchf/