The fight over the freedom to buy natural health products is far from over, according to a Kamloops lawyer.
Shawn Buckley, president of the Natural Health Products Protection Association, told the Georgia Straight by phone that he believes Bill C-36, federal legislation concerning the safety of consumer products, is a “Trojan horse” for reintroduction of controls over natural remedies.
In 2008, the Conservatives didn’t proceed with a contentious health bill known as Bill C-51, which enraged vendors of herbs, supplements, and other natural remedies. “Now, this is just pure speculation, but I think they didn’t want the uproar over Bill C-51 again,” Buckley said. “So they said, ”˜Well, let’s see if we can get half of it through [as C-36].’ ”
Bill C-36, which has already gone through first reading in Parliament, states that it will “protect the public by addressing or preventing dangers to human health or safety that are posed by consumer products in Canada”, including those that are imported. Products listed in Schedule 1, including firearms and crossbows, will be exempted. Various items in Schedule 2, such as insulation that contains urea formaldehyde, would be banned.
Section 4 (3) of Bill C-36 explicitly exempts natural health products from enforcement provisions, which include allowing Health Canada inspectors to enter private property if there are “reasonable grounds”, carry out inspections, and seize products for testing.
Buckley said that even if the food and drug issue weren’t in the background, “Bill C-36 as it is now is a huge sea change in our legal landscape.”
Right now, Buckley said, “the state cannot take control over your property and gain ownership of it and destroy it and all of these fun things without involving the courts.” However, he noted that Section 21 2 (d) of Bill C-36 allows inspectors to “detain for any time that may be necessary” property found on-site, with no warrant needed and the courts not having to be informed.
Buckley said he wonders whether or not the Conservatives will reintroduce Bill C-51 and apply the same provisions. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was unavailable for an interview.
Liberal health critic Carolyn Bennett, a physician and onetime health minister, told the Straight Bill C-51 will find a way back. “I think it will, but I am not sure it’s at the top of their priority list, because it caused so much [of a] problem last time,” Bennett said by phone from Toronto.
But Buckley sees a wider danger. “So it [Bill C-36] sails through the House, and then they reintroduce Bill C-51, and everyone gets all upset and says, ”˜You cannot give Health Canada inspectors all these powers.’ Then Health Canada will say, to the media and to Parliament and to the whole world, ”˜Wait a second, we already have those powers, those very powers you are worried about, for consumer products,’ ” Buckley said. “ ”˜All we’re trying to do is harmonize so there is one set of powers.’ ”
At that stage, according to Buckley, it will be harder to mobilize opposition against Health Canada’s inspectors if the agency argues that those powers are already out there.
NDP health critic Megan Leslie told the Straight she disagrees with Buckley on the Trojan horse theory, but she said: “Something has to be done to deal with natural health products to ensure that they are safe for Canadians.
“Do I think that they should still be treated like pharmaceuticals? No. Do I think 51 was the answer? No. But we still need to have a balanced approach to natural health products. Saying this, I have natural-health-product industries in my [Halifax] riding. I am cognizant of their worries. I want to support them.”¦but we also need to protect the health of Canadians.”
A good start would be to have an “intelligent conversation” about NHPs, Leslie added.