Will the Harper government receive a #MEGAFACEPALM for C-393?


A few weeks ago, I was lecturing during a global issues course (ASIC200), when it became immediately clear that on some occasions, a solitary single facepalm is simply not enough. In fact, there seemed to be many things and events in this world that would merit many many simultaneous facepalms, or as we've been calling it in class, a MEGAFACEPALM!

Anyway, when I looked it up on the internet, there didn't seem to be any pictures of large groups of people doing the facepalm, and so I thought, why not make our own? And so after a few clicks on my camera, and a handy "Make your own motivational poster" website, here is how it turned out:


Of course, then the big question was for what occasion should we bestow this honour – this first unaltered photographic MEGAFACEPALM image? Well, I had a chat with the class the other day, and it seemed that the issue of Bill C-393 seemed like a worthy cause.

Now, if you're late to the game and need a primer on this Bill C-393, then read this boingboing post and then come back here for the MEGAFACEPALM lowdown.

Hereby: I would like to declare that this MEGAFACEPALM will be awarded to the Harper government should:

1. Their members of Senate kill Bill C-393 by voting not to pass it.


2. They indirectly kill the Bill C-393 by "ignoring/postponing" the Bill: especially if it has anything to do with some false nonsense about election calls. Yes, we know that maybe there will be an election call, but that is neither here nor there since this Bill should not be subject to such sneaky political maneuvering.

All to say that, Prime Minister Harper: the outcome is in your hands…

p.s – I realize that technically, we shouldn't call it a MEGAFACEPALM, since the name would infer the presence of a million (=mega) people doing it – but oh well, I figured this was a still good start. Besides, you can also consider this a challenge for others to create even bigger MEGAFACEPALM pictures.

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UPDATE – TUES, MARCH 22nd, 1:33pm PST

We now have reliable information that the Conservative Government is unwilling to let Bill C-393, which would fix Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), proceed further in the Senate. We are working to uncover further details.

This position shows contempt for Parliament — if nothing else, the Senate must study the bills that come to it with majority support in the House of Commons, not simply stall them. (Bill C-393 passed in the House of Commons recently with a vote of 172 MPs in favour and 111 against, with support drawn from all parties.)

Given this latest news, we must therefore redouble our efforts, which had an amazing impact in the House of Commons. This is the final hurdle and one that, as predicted, will take time. But it is doable. The Senate must fulfill their obligation to allow this to come to a timely vote so that Bill C-393 does not die on the Order Paper (again).
From the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

UPDATE – TUES, MARCH 22nd, 9:56pm PST

Bill C-393 was up for further debate in the Senate this afternoon, after word was received this morning that the Conservative leadership is still refusing to let the bill proceed to a second reading vote.

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth rose to speak first. She reminded the chamber that this bill enjoys widespread support, including 26 MPs from her own party in the House of Commons. She noted that the virtually identical Bill S-232 had previously been studied at length with no less than 6 days of hearings from witnesses. She highlighted how Bill C-393 could, at no cost to taxpayers, make Canada's aid help more people, describing it as a concrete example of "aid effectiveness" and "value for money". She noted in particular how this bill would complement the Harper government's initiative on maternal and child health. She urged Senators to pass the bill without delay, as it makes good business sense and good public health sense.

Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire then rose to speak in support, referring to the devastation of AIDS he himself has witnessed in countries such as Rwanda. He noted again that only one use of CAMR has been seen to date and it is unlikely to be used again in its current form — he wondered how anyone could claim this is a success, and remarked of the brand-name pharmaceutical companies' claim to this effect, "what planet are they on?". He noted the critical importance of access to paediatric formulations of fixed-dose combinations and that Apotex had committed to producing these. He ended with an eloquent plea to the Conservative government: "Are their children less human than ours? Do they not deserve the same humanity?"

Finally, Liberal Senate leader James Cowan rose to plead with the Conservative government that it allow the bill to move forward without delay. He underscored that, while it was not the obligation of the Senate to pass bills from the House of Commons, it is the chamber's obligation to consider them in a timely fashion. He noted specifically that Senators had received hundreds and hundreds of emails and telephone calls, and he could think of not a single one expressing any opposition to the bill. He urged Senators to consider this overwhelming public support, and to move this bill on to the Banking Committee so that it could quickly study it and return it to the Senate so that it might be addressed before a possible election.

However, Conservative Senator Stephen Greene then moved to adjourn further debate, consistent with the expected approach of the Conservative leadership. The motion was carried, on a recorded division. The bill will therefore appear again on the Order Paper tomorrow, Wed March 23. At this time, indications are that the Conservative leadership in the Senate will continue to stall the bill.
~Richard Elliot, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

UPDATE – WED, MARCH 23rd, 4:44pm PST

After a speech by Cons. Senator Stephen Greene opposing Bill C-393 (full of the same old mistruths that we've heard ad nauseum, directly contrary to what his legislative assistant told me earlier today), and a moving speech by Lib. Senator Mobina Jaffer in support of the bill, Cons. Senator Carignan stood up to say that Cons. Senator Larry Smith, who was absent from the chamber, wished to speak to the bill and therefore he was moving to further adjourn debate. (Smith was present earlier in the chamber.)

Liberal Senators demanded a recorded vote and bells are now ringing for vote to happen at 8:05 p.m. Supporters are now urgently calling Conservative senators thought or known to be supportive of Bill C-393 to urge them to join in voting against this adjournment.

If any of you know a Conservative Senator whom you know or think is supportive, please email and phone them and urge them to vote down the adjournment.
~Richard Elliot, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

UPDATE – WED, MARCH 23rd, 5:20pm PST

UPDATE – THURS, MARCH 24th, 9:44am PST

From: Fowlow, Patti-Lou
Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 11:17 AM
To: – SEN C

Dear Conservative Senate Staff & Senators,

Senator Larry Smith had the opportunity to meet with pharmaceutical industry leaders in the Montreal area, all are against bill C-393 as it is extremely damaging to our ability to motivate companies to patent new drugs in Canada. Many jobs in Canada's research and development sector, stand to be lost as a result of this bill. I have attached the documents prepared by Mr. Tony Clement.

Nichole A. Beck


Vote Rationale C-393 CAMR
Under the current CAMR system, the process includes the following important steps:
• The product must be identified as safe and effective for human consumption
• The target country/population must be clearly defined and the request must come from the target government itself
• A tracking system must be in place to monitor the drugs flow from Canada to the target country/population to ensure consumption by intended group
• That under CAMR, only THAT drug identified for export can be sent to the intended country/population
Stephen Lewis and his friends have said that these checks are the 'problem' and need to be removed. In fact, these steps are vital. If they are removed, the following consequences can result:
• Instead of one shipment of a particular drug, an advocate can be granted permission to break patents of multiple drugs and ship them to multiple locations, potentially for commercial purposes.
• Drugs that are not certified by Health Canada as being safe and effective could be shipped to unsuspecting populations, to their detriment.
• Drugs shipped under CAMR could be redirected to the black market with proceeds going to non-humanitarian causes such as weapons.
• If drugs are shipped without the consent of the home government, the drugs could run against their domestic laws and traditions.
• If C-393 is passed, Canada's CAMR will be out of step with our international trade obligations. And if current patents are threatened, the patent holders will leave Canada seeking shelter in countries which value patent protection. The loss to Canadian R & D will be significant.
Most importantly, Canadian Generics are some of the most expensive in the world. With C-393 or not, NGOs in the developing world will direct their precious resources to cheaper drugs coming from places like India and Asia. Testimony was clear – This is an irrelevant measure to address the problem of a lack of drugs in Africa.
Committee was clear that the solution to this problem is multifaceted and to that end, the Government of Canada has:

1. Launched the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative
2. Made several contributions to organizations such as Health Partners International Canada (Jake Epp's group) who in turn have sent millions of doses of free drugs from Canadian pharmaceutical companies to the developing world
3. Supported the Global Fund, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and the Clinton Foundation, to name a few. Please contact Minister Oda's office for more details.
In all, close to $2.1 billion in International Aid flows to the developing world each year from Canada.
The bottom line is that C-393 lessens Canadian Patent Protection and vital health, safety, and verification of non-commercial purpose checks. Worst of all, it won't solve the problem. As such, Government members should oppose C-393.

Tony Clement

To which a rebuttal has just been sent out:

Dear Senators:

Yesterday was another missed opportunity for the Senate to move forward on Bill C-393 and finally fulfill Parliament's pledge to the developing world to help increase access to affordable medicines via Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). For a third day in a row, this bill has been stalled, deliberately and unnecessarily, and another 5000 people died of AIDS alone in low- and middle-income countries.

It was also a day where recycled falsehoods cast an unfortunate pall over your deliberations. Senator Stephen Greene's comments repeated yet again the same discredited claims by big pharma that have been shown again and again to be inaccurate and overblown. Please take a moment to look at the text of Bill C-393, and you will quickly and easily verify the falsity of the objections being repeated like a mantra. Specifically:

· Bill C-393 does NOT remove the requirement that Health Canada approve drugs exported under CAMR. (See section 21.04(3) of the Patent Act.)

· Bill C-393 does NOT remove or weaken the existing safeguards against the diversion of medicines. The bill leaves unchanged all requirements for differentiating the generic product exported under CAMR from the brand-name product and for special markings, packaging and labelling, as well as a tracking system to monitor the flow of drugs to recipient countries. (See sections 21.06 and 21.07.)

· Bill C-393 does NOT change the list of countries eligible to receive medicines under CAMR — which was already agreed upon by all countries, including Canada, at the WTO in 2003 and was already approved unanimously by Parliament in 2004. (It combines them into a single, simplified list; it does not change eligibility.)

· Bill C-393 does NOT allow for medicines to be used in an eligible developing country contrary to its domestic law. Those countries' laws regarding the registration of a drug as meeting necessary standards are unaffected by this bill.

· Bill C-393 does NOT run counter to Canada's WTO obligations. With the exception of big pharma's paid lawyer, every legal expert who has testified before Parliamentary committees has affirmed that Bill C-393 is consistent with WTO requirements, as did an international expert consultation convened by the UN Development Programme to study the bill.

· Bill C-393 does NOT threaten jobs or investments in R&D in Canada. This unbelievable claim is made by big pharma based on no evidence and has been debunked by economist experts in submissions to parliamentary committees. CAMR does not allow exports to the high-income countries where brand-name companies make the vast majority of their profits, which are what determine their R&D decisions. Furthermore, it requires generics to pay royalties to brand-name companies on any sales to eligible countries.

Finally, consider the nonsensical argument that CAMR should not be fixed because generic drug prices are too high in Canada. The price of a good in the Canadian market is entirely irrelevant — what is relevant are the prices that Canadian generic manufacturers are able to offer to developing countries. What generic manufacturer would think it could land any contract with any developing country, whose purchasing power is much less than Canada's, by offering a price comparable to what it charges in Canada? Why would any developing country buy generics from a Canadian manufacturer unless they were of good quality and sold at a competitive price? Recall that in the one use of CAMR to date, the Canadian manufacturer landed the bid to supply Rwanda with a Health Canada-approved product at the same price as two Indian generic manufacturers (19.5 cents per tablet, a dramatic reduction from the price of the brand-name options.)

Why would Canadian parliamentarians block a bill that makes it easier for Canadian companies to compete globally in supplying urgently needed medicines?

The worst is that while you were sitting through yet another recitation of these falsehoods, more children in desperate need of life-saving medicines lay dying. This is not just, nor is it the will of Canadians — as expressed through the vote in the House of Commons, an opinion poll that shows 80% of the public supports Bill C-393 or in the tens of thousands of e-mails and phone calls that have been coming into the offices of you and your colleagues. Nor is it necessary. The Senate could still pass this bill into law before an election.

As a chamber of sober second thought, we urge you to listen to the clear weight of the evidence and to think critically about the self-interested and unsubstantiated claims by big pharma, which claims in public to care about access to medicines but has done everything it can to kill a bill that is an important part of an overall response.

How is it that children in Canada should have access to medicines but those in developing countries should not? When will common decency and common sense prevail over falsehoods, obfuscation and inaction? We ask you to move forward on Bill C-393 now.


Richard Elliott
Executive Director
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

UPDATE – THURS, MARCH 24th, 3:59pm PST

C-393 came up.

Senator Dallaire asked Senator Carignon whether he was prepared to speak on the issue.

Carignon said Senator Larry Smith wants to speak – but (again) wasn't in the Chamber.

The Conservatives moved adjournment. Liberals refused and insisted on a standing vote.

We await the news of that vote, but the likely outcome is that the item will again be adjourned.

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

UPDATE – THURS, MARCH 24th, 4:20pm PST

Note that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Senator Marjory LeBreton, and Senator Gerald Comeau are the primary targets for public pressure. You can send all three an email by using this Avaaz link, which will also provide information on phone numbers should you wish to make personal calls. Also, please retweet this post and urge others to do the same!

UPDATE: FRI, MARCH 25th, 10:58am

Tony Clement urges senators to block generic-drug legislation
Rush is on to pass legislation before election
Canadian Access to Medicines Bill Under Threat
Access to Medicines bill stalling in Senate
Dear senators: Pass Bill C-393 now and save lives
Battling AIDS: Approve drug bill now
A reform to save lives left to Canadian Senate
Killing Bill C-393 would be a facepalm of the highest order