Is Bill C-51 a crackdown on natural health?

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      A former New Democrat MP claims that the Conservative government’s proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act are the result of lobbying from big pharmaceutical companies.

      Lyle MacWilliam, who represented Okanagan-Shuswap from 1988 to 1993, told the Georgia Straight he formed part of former Liberal health minister Allan Rock’s 17-member transition team that helped set up the Office of Natural Health Products, now the Natural Health Products Directorate, where “the landscape for a new regulatory structure for NHPs arose”. Bill C-51 would amend the Food and Drugs Act and multiple other statutes, and this has MacWilliam worried for the fate of the natural-health-product industry, which he said will be placed under “stringent” and onerous conditions.

      Bill C-51 by numbers

      > Maximum fine for indictable offence under Food and Drugs Act: $5,000

      > Maximum fine for indictable offence proposed in Bill C-51: $5 million

      > Maximum prison term for indictable offence under Food and Drugs Act: three years

      > Maximum prison term for indictable offence in Bill C-51: two years

      > Estimated percentage of natural-product licence applications that fail: 60 percent

      Sources: Bill C-51, the Natural Health Products Protection Association

      “There are good recommendations when you look at it under the lens of the drug industry, the pharmaceutical model,” MacWilliam said via cellphone from a speaking engagement in Montana. “It is when you look at it under the model of the natural health product that it doesn’t make as much sense. It is the equivalent of using a hammer to squash a fly. It is putting natural health products that are much safer than drugs under a regulatory environment that is very stringent. And I think it might, in the long run, harm the industry, because it makes the hoops pretty high for all the players in the industry to jump through.”

      Added MacWilliam: “Big pharma wants to make it as difficult as possible for people to get access to natural health products. The reason I say that is because many NHPs cannot be patented, so there is no profit in it for the drug industry. I think we are seeing the effects of a lobbying effort on behalf of big pharma.”

      A day after Health Minister Tony Clement introduced the bill for first reading on April 8 in the House of Commons, Shawn Buckley, president of the Kamloops-based Natural Health Products Protection Association, circulated a 20-page draft discussion paper on the bill. Buckley cites Section 23.8 of the bill, which he claims would see more natural-product licence applications fail because the federal government would give the Natural Health Product directorate greater enforcement powers.

      “My estimate is an overall failure rate of 70 percent,” he wrote. “This means that over 60 percent of the natural health products on the market will fail the licensing process and become illegal.”

      Speaking by phone from Ottawa, Clement told the Straight the regulations contained in Bill C-51 “are no different than what is currently in place”, then added: “The difference is we are going to add more inspectors and the fines are going to be higher.”

      Clement said natural health products “absolutely” can survive under Bill C-51’s conditions.

      “I think they are going to thrive,” he added. “What we are going to do is weed out the bad guys, and that will increase credibility and legitimacy of the industry.”

      Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry told the Straight she would be “voting in favour of sending the bill to committee”, so it can be scrutinized section by section. Bill C-51 was in second reading as the Straight went to press.

      Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, a national association representing more than 50 drug companies, did not make anyone available for an interview by the Straight’s deadline. An official at one large pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca Canada, did return a call but said that the staff member who could speak to C-51 was out of the office.

      According to, rallies against the bill are planned in several cities in B.C. and Alberta. The Vancouver rally will take place at Robson Square at 10 a.m. on Saturday (May 10).

      How will Bill C-51 affect the natural-health-products sector?

      Judy Wasylycia-Leis
      Federal NDP health critic

      “That is a question mark for me.”¦The concern from the folks in the natural-products field comes from the fact that there is a change in definition from drugs to therapeutic products. The question everyone is asking, and rightly so, is there must be a reason for this, and what is the government up to?”

      Tony Clement
      Federal health minister

      “The bill is aimed for increasing health and safety generally for a number of therapeutic products.”¦I think the vast majority of health products are safe, and I think the manufacturers of those products want Canadians to be healthier and happier. But there are obviously some that don’t meet that test. Those are the ones we would want to target.”

      Andrew McGivern
      Founder and director, Omira Health Centers

      “It will wipe them out. Hundreds of the products that you walk into a store and see on the shelves will be gone. Even without Bill C-51, it is already happening through the legislation that came out in 2004 [the Liberals’ Natural Health Products Regulations]. We have already lost 40 percent of our products. C-51 will accelerate that process.”

      David Wang
      Vancouver naturopath

      “It’s basically forcing consumers to choose conventional medicine over alternative. At the same time, enforcement agents are allowed to throw people in jail without proper judicial process, which again is very non-constitutional. If I was selling, distributing vitamins...they don’t even need a warrant to come into my office, handcuff me, and throw me in jail.”

      Alan Cassels
      Drug-policy researcher, University of Victoria

      “If they are going to use the pharmaceutical industry’s standard of effectiveness, clinical proof, they [NHP providers] are going to have a lot of trouble reaching that bar. If you can’t patent something, then you can’t get a monopoly profit on it, so where are you going to get your money to do the clinical trial then?”




      May 8, 2008 at 5:10am

      I am glad that at least one media outlet in Canada has reported the controversy of Bill C-51. The ability of Health Canada inspectors to conduct search and seizure raids on nutritional and alternative medical businesses but also on individuals is frightening.

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      May 8, 2008 at 9:40am

      Media Advisory

      For Immediate release,

      (Toronto) May 8, 2008

      Concerned Citizens and Natural Health Practitioners against Bill C-51 will hold a
      rally and press conference to protest the Amendment of the Food And Drug Act
      at 11:00 am on Saturday May 10 South Side of Queen?s Park. (march to follow)

      Where: Queen?s Park South Side. March Route: South on University to Queen.
      East on Queen to Yonge. North on Yonge to College. West Back to Queens Park.

      Why are people protesting?

      The government could designate any natural health product as a prescription
      drug making it available by prescription only (Section15.1) placing greater strain
      on our already overwhelmed healthcare system. Bill C-51 could increase health
      costs by limiting Canadians choice of Natural Health Products.

      Bill C-51 is promoted as a means to protect the safety of Canadians from
      untested natural health products. At the present time, pharmaceuticals are being
      passed faster then ever before without adequate time for testing and clinical
      research. Natural health products and therapeutic foods that have been histori-
      cally used safely for 1000?s of years could be potentially pulled from shelves and
      subject to strict licensing requirements. Bill C-51 is too vague. "New" definitions
      are open for interpretation. Bill C-51 favours pharmaceutical drug and medical

      We must ensure that every Canadian have the right to protect their own health
      naturally and are given time to react and suggest alternatives to Bill C-51.

      Media contacts: Brett Hawes (416.432.4875), Julia Rickert (416.906.6974) and
      Julie Daniluk (416-771-4496)


      Daniel Chiang
      Inspired Life Health Centre

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      May 8, 2008 at 3:00pm

      You know, there are some things the government should just stay away from, and this is one of them. If you check out all the pititions signed from across this country, you will get a better pulse of what the general feeling is,,, outrage. Any Canadian that knows this bill is in existance will never forget the government who implimented it, or the parties who were not brave enough to stand against it. 78% of the country relies on natural suppliments, I think this represents a huge chunk of the voting public. Why is it that democracies, feel more intellegent than the average Canadian on the street? Jails are filled to capacity, even overflowing, and still we continue down this old road, Every so often people wake up and see the hidden agendas. This one is the straw that broke the camel's back.
      Denise Julien
      Waverley, Nova Scotia

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      May 8, 2008 at 3:22pm

      The question that plays in my mind over and over, is why this bill, was kept such a secret? Are we that stupid that we need to be denied information that will effect at least 78% of Canadians currently taking a natural health product. That's alot of voters folks, and we will never forget the government who implimented this or the parties that were not brave enough to protect us from it. What a mess we are in. Maybe if Tony Clement did not have a vested personal interest in the world of big pharma he would think a bit clearer. No hidden agendas, right Mr Harper? Check out some of the pititions that people continue to sign from coast to coast and their comments, many are in tears, all out-raged. For the first time in my life I am wondering what it means to be Canadian, When you at the top have witnessed the miricle that is natural medicine, you will have realized too late what you have tried to do to us, Sadly, Denise Julien

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      May 8, 2008 at 3:52pm

      Shawn Buckley (quoted in the article), LLB, is president of the Natural Health Products Protection Association (NHPPA) and keynote speaker at a public event on June 2, 2008, in Vancouver, cosponsored by HANS and Common Ground Magazine.

      HANS - Health Action Network Society - is a non-government funded, natural health network representing our membership and consumer interests in Canada since 1984. Related to Bill C-51, HANS echoes the concerns of the NHPPA, concerns also expressed by the trade-based Canadian Health Food Association, as well as other groups nationally and internationally.

      "Endangered Natural Health Products?"
      Speaker: Shawn Buckley, LLB and president of the NHPPA
      When: Monday June 2, 2008 7-9 pm
      Where: St Andrew's - Wesley Church, 1022 Nelson Street, Vancouver
      Cost: FREE to pre-registered HANS members, $5 to non-members and at the door. Available at <a href="www.hans.or" target="_blank"></a>, 604-435-0512, or at the door

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      May 13, 2008 at 6:57am

      “I think they are going to thrive,” he (Clement) added. “What we are going to do is weed out the bad guys, and that will increase credibility and legitimacy of the industry.”

      And herein lies the doublespeak. Who exactly are the "bad guys"? Many would argue that Big Pharma are. But our recent governments have worded things, or pronounced things, in the manner of the above, to deliberately obfuscate. What exactly is "the industry"? Is it David Wang, Vancouver naturopath? Or is he a "bad guy"?

      George Orwell, your day is fast apporaching!

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      Jun 9, 2008 at 12:33am

      The care and management of ones own health and body lay under the domain and within responsibility of the individual. This is a right provided by and guaranteed by the Charter of Rights in Canada. Health Canada wishes to bypass the Charter of Rights and instead play 'god' with my health. I for one, do not nor will not grant Health Canada the opportunity to preempt my life choices. C 51 is Bad policy, unneccessary Government and bad health.

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