Election Drum Beats the Life Out of Access to Medicines Bill

Election Drum Beats the Life Out of Access to Medicines Bill

Dan Whalen is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Among the nearly 500 bills that died with the end of the 40th Canadian Parliament last Friday was Bill C-393, Canada’s Act to amend the Patent Act. The bill proposes to modify Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), itself an amendment to the Patent Act passed in 2004.

CAMR’s aim has been to facilitate the process for Canadian companies to produce and market generic versions of medications used to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Medicines for these ailments remain prohibitive expensive in developing countries and, despite CAMR’s good intentions, remain largely unavailable even still.

CAMR has been fraught with criticism since its enactment. Critics regularly argue that it is wrapped in red tape; its unnecessarily complex procedures and restrictions make it nearly impossible for companies to do what the system purportedly assists them to do. Indeed, only one order of medicine from one company to a single country has ever been filled under CAMR – and even that company has said that it will not attempt to do so again. These sentiments have been echoed by Médecins Sans Frontières and the very developing countries it aims to serve.

Bill C-393 aimed to rectify these shortcomings, chiefly by way of a single-licence solution. Under such a system, generic manufacturers would require only a single licence to export a drug to a country in need and to continue that supply as needs evolve, necessitating only one pass through the licensing process. This bold amendment to CAMR grants the wish of many, including Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, discussed in an earlier IPilogue post.

Passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 172 to 111, with support from MPs of each federal party, Bill C-393 stalled in the Senate. This delay has attracted significant criticism, even from some Senators. One called it “an abuse of Parliament” and another said there was simply no procedural grounds for it. Surely the initiative will be brought up again when Parliament reconvenes but, until then, months will pass – and with them, lives.