On September 8, we posted a blogspot about our recent article published in Health Law in Canada, in which we write that Canada is providing haven for internet pharmacies located on Canadian soil that advertise and sell unapproved medicines illegally. We called this a transnational transnational organized crime, which Canadian officials are knowingly facilitating. We offered examples of our government (both of us live in Canada) of turning a blind eye, even in a case where a Manitoba-based pharmacy and its affiliated companies trafficked fake, indeed poisonous, cancer medicines to Americans. We outlined over a year’s worth of our complaints to the Canadian government at the highest levels—including the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper—which have resulted in no law enforcement response.
More to the point, we promised readers that we would offer updates on the complaint letter that we sent to Health Canada and other regulators on July 3, 2014, in which we alleged three bricks-and-mortar, licensed pharmacies in British Columbia and Manitoba are involved in illegally advertising and selling unapproved medicines over the internet. As of our last blogspot on September 8, Health Canada had not even acknowledged our complaint.
What a difference a day (and a pointedly-worded blog) makes! Lo and behold, the next morning at 7:12 AM, Health Canada wrote us the acknowledgement we were waiting for. Here is their response—and it contains a shocking admission.
Simply put, Health Canada admits that it does not intend to enforce the law on Canadian internet pharmacies that sell to foreigners. We suspected this was the excuse, but now it’s official. As Health Canada’s response says:
Health Canada prioritizes its work according to the risk to health that the incident may pose to Canadians. Incidents that present a potentially higher risk to health will be actioned first. Incidents of low or nominal risk will be assessed and entered into our tracking system for possible future compliance action as deemed appropriate.
Note the underlined words: it is only when there is a health risk “to Canadians” that Health Canada prioritizes any action at all. But if the health risk is to Americans, Europeans or anyone else, Health Canada does not even bother to assess and track those cases, much less act on them.
The dangers of Health Canada’s mentality are obvious. It creates safe havens in which organized criminals, who may or may not be licensed pharmacists, are left unfettered to advertise and sell medicines illegally. Money is made, and while it generates externalities felt abroad, it’s without domestic ramifications.
We understand that regulatory bodies must make difficult choices when it comes to prioritizing their efforts, but we believe Health Canada’s choice to tolerate organized crime is lawless and unethical. Canada’s courts have ruled that internet pharmacies on Canadian soil are not exempt from this country’s enforcement jurisdiction, even if they sell medicines only to foreigners.
In behaving otherwise, Health Canada is not only putting foreigners’ lives in danger, but is thumbing its nose at the rule of law.
Craven choices like this invite retaliation, even in other sectors. Therefore, if regulators in the United States chose to enact trade sanctions to get back at Canada’s Conservative government, that is understandable (an extreme example could be blocking new oil pipelines that Canada is counting on for billions of dollars in revenues). After all, when Canada chooses to tolerate organized criminal groups that traffic unapproved or counterfeit medicines into the mouths of American citizens—medicines that can kill—even stern trade sanctions seem proportionate.
Now that Health Canada has put its cards on the table, we urge the United States to aim for a very serious response that the Canadian government cannot ignore. At very least, the United States should make enforcement action a precondition for the planned regulatory tie-up between Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration (the Joint Forward Plan) that Canada is counting on to boost trade.
We will update this blog with future developments, as they occur.