Kill Bill 398 - A Red Riding Hood Story

Diogenes's picture

This is No Fairy Tale

In Canada's parliament and in communities across the country a new twist on an old swindle is unfolding.

There is a private members bill -- C-398 An Act to Amend the Patent Act -- that is making its way through parliament. It has broad support from members of all parties and the media. And why not?

They say this bill is about noble things: about Grandmothers helping children in Africa; about fighting AIDS; and about taking a principled stand against those greedy drug companies. This is about humanity itself. How can you NOT support this bill?

Indeed, there have been no less than 12 Members of Parliament who have proudly stood up in the House of Commons to announce that they have received a petition in support of this bill. They thank the Grandmother Advocacy Network (GRAN) for their efforts.

  1. Dominic LeBlanc - Lib
  2. Kelly Block - CPC
  3. Kevin Lamoureux - Lib
     

  4. Pat Martin - NDP

  5. Linda Duncan - NDP

  6. Fin Donnelly - NDP
     

  7. Michael Chong - CPC

  8. Alex Atamanenko - NDP

  9. Craig Scott - NDP
     

  10. Sean Casey - Lib

  11. Scott Reid - CPC

  12. Phil McColeman - CPC

 

A few of these MP's have generic drug manufacturing facilities close to or in their respective ridings. Coincidence? Expect more in the days to come.

The bill has been sponsored by Hélène Laverdière - NDP - Laurier-Sainte-Marie (Québec).

It's a rehash, uh, improvement of Bill C-393, sponsored in the previous session by Paul Dewar (NDP). That bill died when an election was called. That bill was a rehash of another failed Senate bill, S-232, sponsored Senator Yoine Goldstein, that died when Harper prorogued parliament.

All of these bills have focused on one thing -- to relax current regulations regarding the compulsory licensing of patented pharmaceutical medicines for humanitarian purposes. This was first made possible by the The Jean Chretien Pledge to Africa Act, an unfortunate name that adds no credibility to its lofty intentions. It has since been rebranded as the Canada's Access to Medicine Regime (CAMR).

You will be forgiven if you have to ask "What is compulsory licensing anyway?" or "How does this have anything to do with helping Africa, fighting AIDS and raging grannies running around the country gathering signatures for petitions to Parliament?"

That is where GRAN comes in. They have the answers to your questions. They have a petition ready for you to sign.

The Grandmothers Advocacy Network is a break away group from the Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers Campaign, a very real charitable group that has collaborated with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to deliver meaningful aid to Africa.


- 2 -

They have something important to tell us

GRAN likes to make use of the many photos from  assorted
Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers events (see those t-shirts?) because, let's be honest, pictures like this don't lie.

Grandmothers are good people. They care. They don't have time for dirty politics.

These grandmas have something important to tell us. It is that amending Canada's Patent Laws is the best way to help children in Africa and combat the scourge of AIDS.

You may be thinking "What a clever bunch of grannies. It's like William Wilberforce sneaking through a bill in the British House of Commons to abolish slavery. Brilliant!"

And their website looks really good too. At the bottom of each page it says...

This website has been created by volunteer members of the National Advocacy Committee.

I was curious, almost ready to volunteer. So I did a search for "Canada National Advocacy Committee". It's like searching for "Joe the Plumber" or maybe "Tony's Gazebos & G8 renovations". There are lots of National Advocacy Committees in Canada to choose from.

To be honest, what I really wanted to find out was who sponsors GRAN. These answers are not found on their professionally crafted website.

So I going to take a wild-assed guess here -- it may be the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association (CGPA).

You don't say?

The CGPA are a particularly good lobby association judging by the excellent job they have done convincing politicians, unions, the media and many left leaning organizations that patented drugs are an evil that cost Canadians BILLIONS of $ per year.

The CGPA argues that if the Canadian government succumbs to international pressure to adopt world (EU) standards on Intellectual Property it will cost Canadians dearly. Is this cost really worth a couple of free trade agreements?

The CGPA boasts that generic drugs cost much less. They hire academics to create bogus economic studies that project the additional costs if Canadian patent laws are upgraded to international standards. They argue free trade agreements will compromise the cost of Canada's health system!

What they don't say

What the CGPA never mentions is that some generic drugs in Canada can cost up to 36 times more in Canada than in New Zealand.  Or why generic sumatriptan (a popular migraine medicine) costs almost 7 times as much in Calgary as is does in the Netherlands.

It has been compared to paying $60 for a Tim Horton's cup of coffee or shelling out $500,000 for a Toyota Corolla.

And the CGPA never mentions why Canada has some of the highest priced generic drugs in the world.

For that information, you have to read the 2007 report from the Competition Bureau of Canada on the Generic Drug Sector.


- 3 -

How to Make a Quick Billion $

The Canadian Generic Drug Sector Study reviews how Canadian generic drug manufacturers, in collusion with drug retailers, have offered generic drugs in Canada (and not legally available in other countries) at 1/2 the price of the patented version... but.

The report also details on how a kickback manufacturer's rebate 'professional fees' plan gave the pharmacist almost twice the profit if a generic was substituted for the patented drug that the doctor may have prescribed.

If you own a pharmacy (or maybe 1,800) it is not that hard to arrange to be out of stock on what the doctor prescribed, but have the cheaper (and more profitable) generic on hand. It saves money -- for the government, or the company health plan, or maybe even the customer patient. This sales pitch often works even if the brand name drug is in stock! Everybody wins, just some more than others.

A clever generic drug manufacturer can also attempt to have patent laws tilted in their favour, which certain Canadian businessmen and their master lawyers and lobbyists have managed in brilliant fashion over the last 40 years.

They have enjoyed relaxed rules and regulations that allowed them to amass fortunes by making and selling copycat drugs legally at tremendous profit margins without fear of being sued for patent infringement or price fixing.

dialogThere is a handful of guys-in-ties that can explain how this all works they have actually saved Canada billions of dollars in drug costs; but they are busy executives, so they have the CGPA, the uniquely Canadian Big Pharma lobby group, do it for them. If you want more info on the guys-in-ties, start with a list of the richest Canadians. They are all near the top.

While the feds have known for years that Canada's generic drug sector was overcharging their customers, they have done nothing to stop it. Instead those customers, the provinces, are now passing piecemeal legislation to stop the blatant market manipulation.

Canada has had a Patented Medicine Review Board for 25 years. Their job is to monitor international prices for patented medicines. That is why Canadians pay significantly less than what Americans pay for the same patented medicine.

What is really needed is a Generic Medicine Review Board to ask why Canadian companies are charging 10, 20 or 30 times as much for generics as in other developed countries.

In the US and Britain, companies and individuals guilty of price fixing and fraud are sued by the government. The US has recovered over $30 billion from these efforts.

But Canada does things a little differently. They prefer to punish their rogue traders by building them sports arenas and subsidizing their hockey teams.

It's amazing what a little $430,000 illegal political donation can buy.


- 4 -

The Devil is in the Details

Which brings us back to the Grandmothers Advocacy Network. Their website is full of slick videos and nice graphics, with media kits and colour brochures available for downloading and distribution.

The day after the opening debate in parliament on Bill C-398, the grandmothers had two new postings on their website to counter the objections raised in parliament:

  1. Bill C-398 -- Myth vs Fact
  2. What Bill C-398 Actually says

Our grannies have explained that the complex licensing provisions of the current law has only been applied once in its history -- by Apotex, Canada's largest generic drug manufacturer.

Apotex subsequently complained that it had to wait weeks for approval and that this heavy regulatory burden was just too much.

The sympathy and support offered on the GRAN website for the regulatory tribulations of Canada's largest pharmaceutical company, presented with such precision and professionalism, might raise the question "Just how many real grandmothers are actually involved here?"

Apotex is a private company owned by one of the richest men in Canada. I think it is safe to assume, going by press releases and news reports in the past, that Apotex spends far more money on legal defense and patent litigation than it does on any medical research and development.

But GRAN claims that Apotex really wants to help Africa - and it will, along with any other impoverished country that needs cheap, legal, copycat drugs.

But first the Canadian government must relax the patent regulations again - otherwise this business humanitarian model just won't work.

But Grandma, what big teeth you have!

Just a hunch here; no definitive proof; just my opinion.

The GRAN website was NOT created by volunteers as they claim. It's a slick PR proxy campaign financed by business interests with one aim in mind -- to get Bill C-398 passed; and weaken the current regulations regarding the legitimate compulsory licensing and regulation of patented medicines for humanitarian purposes.

The Grandmothers Advocacy Network is NOT about helping Africa or grandmothers helping orphans or fighting AIDS or anything resembling humanitarian aid. 

Bill C-398 is really a cynical ploy by Canada's Big Pharma to rig the laws of Canada (again) so they can profit handsomely from an emerging world market for cheap, high quality, copycat drugs.  Made in Canada and made legally, right?

If that market happens to include a black market, it should not matter. After all, this will still save lives.

In my opinion, and in the spirit of fair comment, the Grandmothers Advocacy Network and Bill C-398 are nothing but lawyers and lobbyists dressed up in granny's nightie.

Bill C-398 must be defeated, and delegated to the dustbin of private members bills that never become law.

KILL BILL 398!


Further Reading:


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