A Kamloops-based constitutional lawyer believes Bill C-51’s overarching enforcement powers and limiting of access to natural health products will result in the deaths of thousands of Canadians.
And according to Shawn Buckley, president of the Natural Health Products Protection Association, “there is no way it will be limited to tens of thousands.”
Buckley was speaking at a June 2 event, organized by the Health Action Network Society and Common Ground magazine, to push for a massive membership and letter-writing drive to abolish Bill C-51. The bill is from the Health Ministry and seeks sweeping amendments to the Food and Drugs Act, including greater enforcement powers and more stringent licensing and labelling requirements for purveyors of natural health products (NHPs). C-51 was introduced on April 8 and sits at second reading with one week left in the parliamentary calendar before Ottawa’s summer break.
According to Michelle Hancock, the HANS researcher signing people up as they entered St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church off Burrard Street, just under 500 people “including volunteers” showed up. Buckley attacked Bill C-51 from many angles, but he particularly wanted to debunk what he called the government “lie” that “[NHPs] are dangerous and we need to regulate them off the market.”
“Taking them off the market is probably one of the most riskiest things we could possibly do as a society,” he said to applause. “And yet most of those people outside of those doors are happy the government is protecting them. How many lives in the next 10 years are going to be saved by these regulations and Bill C-51? We have just gone 140 years without a single death [caused by NHPs], so probably in the next 10 years the answer will be ”˜zero’. How many lives will regulations and Bill C-51 cost by taking away our freedoms to access those products? Is it going to be measured in the hundreds of thousands? Or is it going to be in the millions? Well, there is no way it will be limited to tens of thousands.”
Buckley cited EMPowerplus, the controversial supplement—consisting of a mixture of vitamins and minerals—made by Alberta-based company Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd. Even though the product was available in the U.S., he said, Health Canada went to great lengths to stop its use in this country and initially prevented shipments coming north
In July 2006, the Alberta provincial court forced Health Canada to reverse its position and allow the sale of EMPowerplus, but Buckley said there were social costs in
“People had made suicide plans,” Buckley said. He explained that EMPowerplus had been shown to work very well on people with chronic bipolar disorder and they could not face the prospect of “going back again”.
Health Minister Tony Clement did not respond to a message by Georgia Straight press time. However, in a May 6 phone interview, Clement insisted Bill C-51 “was all a result of the scares that Canadians have had to endure when it came to the safety of products”.
“Those scares have involved pharmaceutical products like Vioxx, other manufactured products, like children’s toys, and also food products like spinach from the United States,” Clement said at the time. “All across the realm of products there have been some problems. Bill C-51 requires hospitals to report any adverse reactions that are serious involving a prescription drug. I don’t know why the natural health products industry would ever think this legislation is targeted toward them. This is targeted toward safe products and safe usage.”
When asked if the pharmaceutical lobby had influenced his decision, as many at the HANS event later claimed, Clement answered: “No.”
Buckley spoke for more than an hour before fielding questions. In closing, he called on people to write letters to their MPs asking that Bill C-51 be abolished, not reformed.
“Send a message that you will not vote for any MP supporting Bill C-51,” he said, before adding: “We cannot afford to send a mixed message to Ottawa.”
Gabriel Yiu, spokesperson for A Coalition Against Bill C-51, also expressed concern that natural health products, many coming from traditions evolved over thousands of years, could be under such attack.
Coalition founder and Vancouver-based acupuncturist Johnny Lin told the Straight that Bill C-51 “will affect people’s choice”.
“The main thing will be when people need the herbs,” he said after the meeting. “It will affect the choice. No herbs, no vitamins, and when we do prescribe products we will pay more [due to increased regulations], and so people will also have to pay more.”
Buckley also discussed the concern that “our system is geared toward the treating of sickness” as opposed to preventing illness or curing sickness. He said this is a separate concern centred around the modern-day dominance of pharmaceutical-based “allopathic” care over homeopathic remedies. According to Buckley, this means alternative treatments are geared toward the wealthy.
“Those of us that are on welfare, or the working poor that don’t have spare cash, they are not free to choose the alternative health field because the state will pay for them to go to an allopathic hospital,” he said. “The state will pay for the chemical pharmaceutical drugs. The state will not pay for them to go to a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor or purchase natural health products. Why? I guess the state is deliberately not giving the disadvantaged in our society the freedom to choose. So those of us that are middle class or upper class in this room, understand that you only have the choice because of your social position, that our government has a social policy that denies the lower parts of our society any choice at all.”