May 9, 2008
A newly proposed law in Canada, Bill C-51, just may outlaw up to 60 percent of natural health products currently sold in Canada — and criminalize people who use them. Bill C-51 which makes significant changes to Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, was introduced into the House of Commons by the Canadian Minister of Health. The first reading on April 8 was followed by it’s second reading on April 28, barely time for consumers, trade groups, and elected representatives to examine, debate, or compose official positions.
Acts in Canada must pass three readings in both legislative houses before becoming law. This is supposed to give representatives and the general public time to become aware of any proposed changes, have them debated, and give their consent. On the other hand, Regulations are published in the newspaper twice and can then be signed into law. Parliament does not vote on Regulations. (Keep this bit in mind for later.)
The text of the lengthy bill describes many changes to be made to Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and seems to have left no stone unturned. The sweeping changes are couched in the increasingly broad language we have come to expect from bureaucratic governments. The language leaves the door wide open for extreme governmental regulation, licensing, and enforcement that would have devastating consequences on an entire industry and millions of consumers.
One of the radical changes the proposed bill offers is in terminology. The word "drug" will be replaced with the term "therapeutic product." This one change alone could effectively put all vitamins, herbs, supplements, and even some foods under the complete control of the government. The term "sell" would now include anyone who sells, buys, or uses "therapeutic products," and anyone who administers those products.
It will be the government’s delegates who will decide on the regulation, licensing, marketing, inspecting, and enforcing of all changes listed in the new bill. So it’s interesting to note that the inspection and seizure powers in Bill C-51 are greatly expanded from the original Food and Drugs Act that is presently enforced by Health Canada. Attorney Shawn Buckley has done an excellent job dissecting and analyzing C-51 (click on “Legal Review”) and has this to say about the newly proposed inspection and seizure powers:
The inspecting and seizure powers found in s. 23 of the Act are increased to:
• give inspectors authority to enter private property to prevent non-compliance with the Act or Regulations;
• enter conveyances for the purposes of inspections;
• enter places where even a document relating to the Act and Regulations may be located… Note that document is defined in Bill C-51 to include information that can be read by a computer or device so if your blackberry is in your car, the car can be searched;
• take samples free of charge… There is no limit to the value of the samples;
• seize and detain for any time anything connected to the Act and Regulations such as products and equipment;
• enter on and pass through or over private property without any liability and without the owner of the property having the right to object;
• charge the owner for storage of seized property;
• if inspectors believe on reasonable grounds the seized property could be injurious to human health they can dispose of it at the expense of the owner or direct the owner to dispose of it;
The inspectors are given apparently unlimited powers to enforce the Act and Regulations. They can order a Canadian citizen to stop doing anything that they deem is a contravention of the Act. Section 31 is amended to make it an offense not to do something the Minister or an inspector directs person to do or not do.
And the new penalties for indictable and summary infractions of the Act or Regulations increase by 1,000 times. A first offense results in a $250,000 fine and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months; subsequent offences will run $500,000 and/or up to 18 months in prison; and indictable offences $5,000,000 (six zeros are correct) and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years. Willful and/or reckless violations, or not listening to the Minister or an inspector are just as extreme.
In the "Definitions Et Interpretation" section of C-51, the term "government" will now mean any of the following "or their institutions, as applicable:"
a) the federal government;
b) a corporation named in Schedule III to 10 of the Financial Administration Act,
c) a provincial government or a public body established under an Act of the legislature of a province,
d) an aboriginal government as defined in subsection 13(3) of the Access to Information Act,
e) a government of a foreign state or of a subdivision of a foreign state, or
f) an international organization of states. [Emphasis added.]
Defining "government" to include foreign states and/or international organizations is a segue into section 30 which states:
A regulation may incorporate by reference documents produced by a person or body other than the Minister of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency including:
a) an organization established for the purpose of writing standards, including an organization accredited by the Standards Council of Canada;
b) an industrial or trade organization; or
c) a government
This clever little addition apears to allow the Canadian government to make documents prepared by foreign "governments" the law in Canada simply by passing a regulation incorporating the documents as regulations. The UN’s infamous CODEX Alimentarius, Latin for “food code,” could become law without Parliamentary approval if it’s referred to as a regulation.
The text of C-51 states directly that the changes to Canada’s Food and Drug Acts are for "the purpose of implementing, in relation to drugs, Article 1711 of the North American Free Trade Agreement on paragraph 3 of Article 39 of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights set out in Annex 1C to the WTO Agreement."
So there is a method and a purpose to this madness, and it’s not about public health safety. This should serve as yet another warning and reason for the U.S. to withdraw from NAFTA.
And this brings us to the crux of the matter for Americans.
The FDA is presently conferencing with its regulatory counterparts in Canada and Mexico to draft one set of food and drug standards for all three countries. Besides the FDA, Health Canada and Mexico’s Secretaria de Salud are committed to harmonizing regulations for all three countries without any legislative oversight or public input under the Trilateral Cooperation Charter. The TCC has as one of their principles, "The use of problem-solving techniques and consensual decision-making processes," in the area of health and safety issues. They expect their members to abide by the TCC’s Steering Committee decisions and "assist in their implementation."
But what effect will this have on the United States if the TCC decides to use Canada’s newly overhauled Food and Drug Acts as the standard by which all three countries will now regulate and license foods and drugs? Will the United States’ Food and Drug act be coopted by the implementation of the TCC’s decisions? Certainly, if a convergence or integration takes place via the North American Union, chances of implementation of the TCC’s decisions would be far easier and more probable.
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