Debates of April 28th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.
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Motions for Papers
Some hon. members
The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act (The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa), as reported (with amendments) from the committee.
April 28th, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.
There are 20 motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-9. The motions will be grouped for debate as follows.
Group No. 1 includes Motions Nos. 1 through 11. Group No. 2 includes Motions Nos. 12 through 20.
The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.
I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 11 in Group No. 1 to the House.
Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all the parties concerning the report stage debate of Bill C-9. I believe if you were to seek it that you would find unanimous consent for the following. I move:
That no later than 5:30 p.m. this day, all questions necessary to dispose of report stage of Bill C-9 be deemed put and that a recorded division be deemed requested on Motions Nos. 2, 14 and 18.
That Motions Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 20 be deemed carried on division.
That Motion No. 3 be deemed defeated on division.
That the recorded division requested on Motions Nos. 2, 14 and 18 be taken at 5:30 p.m. this day.
Is there unanimous consent for the motion put forward by the hon. chief government whip?
Some hon. members
(Motion agreed to)
London North Centre
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 36 to 38 on page 6 with the following:
“(f) the name of the person or entity to”
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 23 on page 7 with the following:
“at least fifteen days before filing the applica-”
London North Centre
Joe Fontana Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Science and Small Business)
Motion No. 4
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 23 on page 7 with the following:
“at least thirty days before filing the applica-”
Motion No. 5
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing, in the French version, lines 26 and 27 on page 7 with the following:
“l'OMC mentionné dans la demande, et ce à des conditions raisonnables et sans succès,”
Motion No. 6
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 21 to 25 on page 11 with the following:
“its label and packaging, as required by regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act, as well as information identifying every known party that will be handling the product while it is in transit from Canada to the country or WTO Member to which it is to be exported.”
Motion No. 7
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 29 on page 11 with the following:
“(3) The Commissioner shall,”
Motion No. 8
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 34 on page 11 with the following:
“(4) The Commissioner shall,”
Motion No. 9
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 1 to 3 on page 12 with the following:
“quantity to be exported, as well as every known party that will be handling the product while it is in transit from Canada to the country or WTO Member to which it is to be exported:”
Motion No. 10
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 42 to 45 on page 15 with the following:
“authorized to be manufactured and sold, which agreement must incorporate information that is in all material respects identical to the information referred to in paragraphs 21.04(2)(a), (b), (e) and”
Motion No. 11
That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 9 on page 18 with the following:
“Health shall establish, within three years after the day this section comes into force, an”
Aileen Carroll Minister for International Cooperation
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak in the House this afternoon on the subject of Bill C-9, the Jean Chrétien pledge to Africa act. As we know, the bill has been in committee and there have been a number of amendments. The bill will be coming back to the House for third reading very shortly.
The bill is the Government of Canada's response to the agreement reached at the WTO called the TRIPS agreement. It was an acknowledgement on the part of all the members of the WTO that drugs are desperately needed in Africa and other developing countries to assist them in dealing with the pandemic of HIV-AIDS, malaria, TB, and all of the diseases that are rampant there, and to make those drugs available at a price that people in developing countries could afford.
As one of the members of the WTO, Canada joined with our colleagues in signing the TRIPS agreement. That agreement puts an onus on all members within their own countries to bring forward domestic legislation that will have as its objective the distribution, production and availability of drugs for the diseases that I have just described.
In order to meet that onus, our legislation will meet changes requisite in the Food and Drugs Act, Intellectual Property Law Improvement Act, and the Patent Act.
I am proud of this bill and I do not have to apologize for that. I am proud of my government that we are the very first member of the WTO to bring this legislation forward. It was quite a task. We engaged the pharmaceutical industry in Canada and the generic drug companies. We joined in our consultation process with the non-governmental organizations. The work was the product of five departments of government coming forward to engage in the process and that, in and of itself, I think was quite an undertaking and accomplishment.
The legislation meets the requirements of TRIPS. I tend sometimes to be overly technical, but I want to give people the benefit of the background of this legislation. It reflects the moral imperative that Canada recognizes is ours to do all that we can to make those medical treatments available to the millions of people who are suffering from these diseases.
We have brought the legislation forward. It will return to the House once the process is complete in committee. As the Minister for International Cooperation, I have just returned from meetings at the World Bank over the weekend at the development committee and prior to that not long ago from meetings at the OECD, the DAC committee. Both of those are very prestigious and influential committees, where donor countries joined together in developing the best strategies to deliver aid effectively to the poor of this world.
I took advantage of both those venues to share the information with all of the donor countries, to tell them about this innovative piece of legislation, and to brag somewhat in spite of the reputation that Canadians must always maintain to be modest and unassuming. We have a lot to brag about and I did that, but I did it with a purpose. The purpose was to put a real onus on other member countries that have signed the TRIPS agreement to follow the precedent that Canada has set.
Until one country comes forward and does exactly that, these kinds of agreements can sometimes linger in a hiatus situation that would be beneficial to no one. Canada has come forward and has received accolades from our NGO communities worldwide, as well as the domestic community.
We have heard very favourable responses from leaders in civil society. I am pleased that people such as Bono and others have given great approbation to Canada for having shown the leadership to come forward and be the first out of the gate with this legislation.
It was a very important consultative process. There was a commitment on the part of the pharmaceuticals, the generics, the NGOs and these five departments to work out legislation that did not just meet the bar of that agreement, but in effect, went above the bar.
Canada has exceeded the bar in one dimension by including in this legislation, not just the countries that are members of the WTO but countries who meet the criteria as established by the DAC committee. It would include all countries that are officially recognized recipients of ODA, official development assistance.
We have broadened, right at the beginning with our legislation, the number of countries who will benefit from this, and who will now be able to access drugs at a price that they are able to afford. This drug bill, the Jean Chrétien pledge to Africa, therefore becomes an integral piece, if I can speak strictly as the Minister for International Cooperation in Canada, this drug bill, of our strategies to assist people in the developing nations.
We are working to greatly enhance the capabilities of countries with their health services in all that is required to assist them in developing a capacity that they are slowly accomplishing. Obviously, it is uneven. The growth in capacity is stronger in some countries than others. The availability of drugs, that is an incredibly important part of their battle against diseases that are the scourges I have described, becomes a very important part of an overall holistic approach.
As the Minister for Cooperation, it became and remained, and still is a major priority for us as one of the five departments who came forward here. It was a very broadly based consultative system. It allowed Canadians to come forward wearing every hat that pertained to the development of the bill. It allowed them to come to committee to engage parliamentarians on that committee, convey changes they felt needed to be made, and to convey their approval of the strength of that bill giving excellent wisdom to us as we all moved together to enact this incredibly important and timely piece of legislation.
That speaks well for the process. It speaks well for the important role of the committee. The committee was enhanced by the enabling of the members of that committee through the recent approaches the government has undertaken under the leadership of the Prime Minister to address democratic deficit. It enabled people to work together and produce legislation of this tremendous import.
We have dealt with some of the issues that originally were not roadblocks, but I would describe as hurdles, and we have overcome them. With regard to voluntary licensing, the amendments eliminate the requirement that patent holders be given the right of first refusal and that was vital. When we initially came forward, we heard a lot of concern and really to be fair, criticism not just concern, on that right of first refusal.
We have come together with our stakeholders, made the changes and eliminated that requirement. In so doing, again, it produces a piece of legislation that says to the world, this is where Canada has come from, this is what we have come out of the gate with on the TRIP agreement, and this is exactly the model that will be there to emulate.
We have included two lists in the regulations, lists of countries that will be able to benefit from this legislation and lists of the drugs that will be available as a result. Both form a beginning and are not engraved in stone for all time, but we had to begin somewhere and we have done that.
I look forward to speaking in a more formalized fashion at third reading.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-9 and specifically to some of the amendments in the first group.
I would like to tackle specifically one clause, a motion that we have submitted which I believe is important and will make the bill better. I am concerned it will not pass. I want to outline the reasons for moving that particular amendment.
First I want to thank my staff in Ottawa and in Windsor for the hard work they have done, in particular the Ottawa staff for the research that went into the bill. I thank the volunteers as well. I would also like to thank Stephen Lewis for his leadership on this initiative abroad. It simply makes another mark for Canada, that I hope will be successful.
The NDP is committed to ensuring that this very important humanitarian bill is passed as quickly as possible. A very important issue unfortunately has not been dealt with appropriately in the bill which could compromise its effectiveness.
As we all know, the bill was first introduced last November and after prorogation was reintroduced on resumption of Parliament in February of this year.
One of the chief points of contention with the bill was the issue of non-governmental organizations being able to contract directly with Canadian generics to purchase medicines for their programs in eligible developing countries.
During the weeks of testimony that the industry committee heard, a variety of NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders and Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, testified about the importance of NGOs being able to produce lower cost pharmaceutical products directly, among other issues. I would like to thank them for all the work they have been doing abroad and also on this bill. I look forward to their achievements in the future. There are fine, capable people in those organizations.
NGOs testified that although the government intended to include NGOs, the language in the first version of Bill C-9 which identified governments and “agents” of governments as being eligible importers, the NGOs did not feel that this language adequately assured them of access to lower cost pharmaceuticals. It was inappropriate language terminology that hurt them.
Upon reflection of the various issues that were raised during committee testimony, the government proposed substantial changes to Bill C-9. It proposed removing the first right of refusal removal and opening the list of eligible importing countries to include many more developing countries. Of importance to consideration of this amendment, it changed the language about how NGOs could be involved. I commend those achievements, but unfortunately, they are changing it back again.
In its proposed amendments during clause by clause, the government put forward language in section 21.04 to remove the restriction of government or “agent of government” and replace it with “person or entity to which the product is to be sold”. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network issued a statement in support of that particular change saying it would allow NGOs to procure medicines from generic producers, assuming the NGO was legally entitled to import and distribute in the country where it was operating. This was a very progressive, important step by the government.
The difficulty with the issue is the following. No one was ever requesting that an NGO be allowed to contract directly with generic producers without the legal authority to do so in the eligible importing country. NGOs regularly receive their appropriate legal authority within whatever country they are operating to allow them to distribute medicines through their particular programs.
The more open language “a person or entity legally entitled to import and distribute”, however, was changed through a subamendment at the committee. I recognize that my colleague who presented the subamendment was attempting to clarify the language in the bill, but whether purposely or inadvertently, the language as it now stands would again prevent NGOs from participating. That is why I put forth the amendment at this stage to ensure that the language remained inclusive of NGOs.
The language in section 21.04(2)(f), lines 36 to 41 in particular, on page 6 of the bill reprinted as amended at committee, has been changed to “governmental person or entity or person or entity permitted by the government of the importing country”. This is problematic because it does not allow NGOs to contract directly. That is how they feel about the bill at this particular time. It is one of the challenges that we are going to see in the field.
The problem is that many countries, including Canada, do not necessarily provide the legal authority to procure and distribute pharmaceutical products through the government. In fact the best reference point is our own system. Here in Canada we have a commissioner of patents. Although created by an act of parliament and is part of the larger government structure, it is the commissioner of patents, not the government, who decides who is issued a compulsory licence to allow the sale and distribution of a particular pharmaceutical product. If a person obtains a compulsory licence under Canadian law from the commissioner of patents, there is nothing else the person needs in order to have the legal right to deal with that patented product in accordance with the terms and conditions of the actual licence.
It is the same in many countries around the world that also have positions of commissioners of patents. In other countries, such as South Africa, compulsory licences are issued through the courts and the legal system, not through the government.
Why is this language in its current form so problematic?
Let us assume for example that Doctors Without Borders in South Africa wants to import an anti-retroviral drug used in HIV-AIDS treatment for their programs in that country. A generic version could mean thousands of dollars in savings per year per patient. Under the current language of Bill C-9, Doctors Without Borders would have to first apply to get a compulsory licence and then, because of our law, would have to get some kind of authorization from the South African government to buy the anti-retroviral drug to use for their patients.
There is no process for that authorization in the South African government at the moment because it has a commissioner of patents that issues compulsory licences and a person or entity is not required under South African law to get anything other than a compulsory licence. That is the obstacle.
The bill is intended to be humanitarian in nature. As the minister stated in her opening comments to the committee, it is important that we have a bill that ensures that the regime not be abused, but that it also provides for the actual intervention of the drugs on the actual streets of the nations that need those types of support and supplies.
If we maintain the language around who a generic producer is able to contract with, in order to contract, NGOs would be required not only to obtain the compulsory licence, but also to get some kind of governmental authority; some kind of governmental authority that NGOs are not required to get by the laws of the country in which they are operating. It creates a circle. This circle is what is causing the NGOs to have problems and why we have this amendment.
Whatever process the eligible importing country has identified for issuing compulsory licences, whether it be through a commissioner of patents, through the courts or some other agency mandated by the government, should be enough of a legal requirement to allow NGOs to contract with generic producers. This is similar to our system here.
Again, I am not proposing that NGOs should be able to contract directly where they are not legally entitled to according to the laws of the country in which they are operating. I am simply proposing that we ensure that the language of our bill does not create further steps and barriers in the process of getting these much needed drugs to the people who need them, through the government or other person or entity legally entitled to do so.
Countries already have legislation regulating what drug products are approved for sale and use in their country. A compulsory licence would only be issued in cases where a drug is patented in that country and approved for sale and use.
There may be occasions where a country wishes to import a drug that is patented here in Canada but is not patented there. In that case no compulsory licence would be necessary by NGOs or other persons or entities wishing to distribute that pharmaceutical product, but it would still have to be approved for use and distribution, again by the importing countries under their own rules and regulations.
It is like it is here in Canada. There is Health Canada's process of determining safety of drugs and Industry Canada's process of placing products on the patent register and determining whether compulsory licences can be used.
Again, this amendment seeks not to change any of that, but seeks instead to respect the rules that are already in place in whichever importing country tries to participate under the regime that Bill C-9 would create. The change in language would ensure that there is no confusion between patent holder, generic producer, importing country, or NGO about whether a person or entity is eligible. Confusion can lead to legal battles and I know members on all sides of the House, as well as stakeholders, want to avoid that possibility.
We as parliamentarians should be respecting the sovereign process of legally issuing compulsory licences to NGOs or other organizations or persons for using patented pharmaceutical products within their own borders. We as Canadian parliamentarians do not need to tell other parliamentarians and representatives of other countries how they should do their job. We as Canadian parliamentarians cannot undermine the potential for success of this bill by including language that simply is not necessary and creates more burdens for the NGOs attempting to provide much needed health care services and governments that are dealing with health emergencies.
My amendment is simple. It proposes to return the language from what was passed at committee on a subamendment to the language proposed by the government in its own amendments to its own bill. The NGOs welcomed the government's language, as did the NDP, but we have not welcomed the new language that was passed at committee. This amendment does not propose to do anything but keep the process within established legal grounds and ensure that no additional barriers are placed in the way of NGOs attempting to deliver their humanitarian programs.
It simply boils down to this at the end. We felt that the government did a good job of listening to the NGOs and also to the witnesses at committee to deal with this problem and deal with an appropriate change from the first to the second draft. That is very important because they did change a number of different things. I commend the government for that.
Unfortunately, the subamendment, we believe, will create problems for the bill. That is why we would like to see this amendment pass. It would open up a better process for NGOs and those countries to be able to make sure that the humanitarian efforts of this bill are realized. At the end of the day, that is what all of us in Parliament want.
We want a bold initiative that is going to actually create opportunities for people who are sick and suffering, where health standards and impoverishment prevent people from achieving their fullest potential and cause death. We want to provide assistance with cheaper drugs to treat those illnesses.
That will not only make Canada a stronger nation, it will also provide for peace and security in the world.
Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-9, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act.
This subject is very close to my heart because I come from that part of the world where the bill will have a major impact, the continent of Africa, where I grew up and where I went to school. To see the devastation that is taking place on that continent is very shocking and of immediate concern.
Time after time there has been mention of the major impact on the economy over there. My family still lives in that part of the world. I have on many occasions visited that part of the world. I have had first-hand experience of the devastation that is taking place in Africa as well as the economic impact. It falls upon us to see what we can do.
As a compassionate country, we have been directing foreign aid to that part of the world. It is becoming very clear that no matter how much money we are spending in that part of the world, if we do not tackle this scourge head on, the money that we are pouring into Africa will be wasted because people are dying, the economy is being affected and they need our help.
I am very happy that Canada took the lead when it brought the bill forward. When the bill was first proposed by the government, although I am on the opposition side, I commended the government for bringing forward this vision. We were the first ones to come out and support this initiative. As a matter of fact the Conservative Party was willing to pass this legislation in a single day in November so that we could address this issue.
I am happy to say that changes have been made. People in the field who were working with AIDS victims were concerned with what was wrong with the bill. Amendments that were brought forward in the committee will address many of those issues.
The issue is that in that part of the world, people cannot afford the drugs. When there is such severe poverty, when putting food on the table is an issue, how could the people fight that scourge on that continent?
I was there in November last year. I attended one of the AIDS clinics in Nairobi. I grew up in that city. About 25 years ago no one was suffering from AIDS. There was not the scourge of AIDS. It hit home when I went back there after 25 years and saw the devastating impact in the place where I grew up.
I went into the slums. I went into a grandmother's home. She was taking care of her two little grandchildren because both her daughters had died of AIDS. She herself had absolutely no idea what would happen to the children when she died.
On the streets of Africa the number of orphans is increasing. There are other severe social problems that go along with the breakup of families in that society which have to be addressed.
The priority now, and rightly so, is to ensure that cheap drugs are available. The good news is that they are available. It was only the rules and regulations that we had put in place that did not make it possible to reach out to these people.
Indeed, Bill C-9 is one of those bills that will go down in history as one that went out to help people, as a bill that Canada initiated to help people. Three months ago I was in Europe talking to Irish and Dutch parliamentarians on a Canada-European Union parliamentary visit. They were extremely proud of the Irish and Dutch governments and the assistance through ODA that they were giving to people around the world. Every time we have talked, they have dwelled on this. It was with great pride on my part that I showed Bill C-9 to them and told them that this was what was required, that their governments must look at Bill C-9 and must make sure that their own pharmaceutical companies would follow Bill C-9.
I told them that if they are really interested in spending money to help people in poor countries, then they must look at this legislation to see how they can help, because, as I have stated, the devastation is so severe that effective foreign aid delivery will not be there. I must say that I am pleased to be standing in this Parliament and to be in this country that has taken such a strong initiative to help where this devastation hits the hardest.
As we continue with this process, right now we are focusing on sub-Sahara, and of course this bill also talks about the other two diseases, not only AIDS but malaria and TB. Having grown up in that country, I have been a victim of malaria. Anybody who goes there is bound to be a victim of malaria. One cannot escape malaria living in that part of the world. I have had it too. To fight it, one needs strength and one needs medicine, cheap medicine. Again, this bill will address that issue to make sure that the scourge of malaria is fought in that part of the world and that drugs are affordable for the people in the villages of Africa and Latin America and wherever people cannot afford them.
As part and parcel of Canada's overall strategy of assistance through ODA to this part of the world, this bill fits extremely well into the whole picture of helping these countries, so it is with great pleasure that I say we will be supporting the bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)
I would like to make one comment before we resume debate. I will ask members to please turn off all electronics.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on this bill. It is important to put it into the context in which we are examining it.
This bill seeks to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act (The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa). This bill is the result of very strong international determination that prescription drugs that have been the subject of significant and costly research projects should be available to all people in developing countries, the least fortunate on this Earth.
And so we came to discuss this bill originally introduced last fall. As members will recall, the first bill introduced was full of good intentions but during the committee stage it became clear that a great many changes were really needed in the bill.
The initial good will was expressed to the WTO and later shaped by intensive lobbying from non-governmental organizations and all stakeholders wanting humanity to show that, when someone on this planet is in need, an effective and meaningful way can be found to help that person, and that results can be achieved in a short time.
The bill we have before us will enable these countries to cope with problems relating to HIV-AIDS, TB, malaria and other such diseases.
Lastly, this bill is intended to make it possible to supply drugs to developing countries, while respecting the reality of intellectual property. As a result, when it was introduced, we had to listen carefully to everything that witnesses had to say, whether they were research companies working on new drugs, producers of generic drugs, NGOs, or other stakeholders. All of these were interested in seeing the bill get passed, be as functional as possible, and allow the various countries to have access to drugs as promptly as possible.
This was not necessarily an easy task, since the purpose of the exercise was to free the whole matter of supplying drugs to developing countries from international trade regulations. Yet, at the same time, despite the good will of all parties, the companies involved still wanted assurance that the arrangement would be adequate to prevent commercial trading or leaks.
We had to focus on this and ensure that the end product would be an acceptable bill. So there were many amendments, particularly in relation to the first draft in which research companies were given first right of refusal. Proposals were made to replace that.
I believe that the model found in the bill now, while perhaps not perfect, will improve the situation. It will allow greater competition among the companies concerned when there is a product to be supplied. As a result, in the medium term, this will contribute to lower prices for drugs supplied to developing countries under both this bill and the WTO agreement. In the long term, this would lead to the creation of more worthwhile markets for all kinds of products.
As for the work done in committee on this bill, it can be said that all the parties in this House did their best to create the best bill possible. We also heard from many witnesses. Moreover, we allowed enough time for the government to prepare amendments. Some amendments were adopted in committee; others on the table today will not make the bill perfect, but better. There is a clause in the bill stipulating that in three years time the bill should be tabled in the House again and re-examined to look at how it was applied and whether the mechanism established actually helped provide drugs to southern countries.
The fundamental challenge of this bill is to determine whether, in a reasonable period of time, human beings in the poorest countries in the world will benefit from the benefits put in place and the mechanism created for ensuring that drugs are made available.
Amendments were made to the list of drugs. The government's initial bill was missing drugs that should have been part of the list. They are now included in the current bill. Some countries were also missing from the list; this is to ensure that countries that are not WTO members, for instance, and are very poor, are on the list of countries eligible under this agreement. We also worked to ensure greater competition in order for the drugs to be available at a lower cost.
This led to the new version of the bill.
Among the amendments under consideration today in the first group, there are some amendments to ensure security of supply.
Various stakeholders remarked that it is quite proper to implement a process to ensure that developing countries receive a satisfactory supply. However, it is also essential to ensure that smuggling will not develop, with lower cost pharmaceutical products intended for developing countries ending up on North or South American markets or elsewhere in the world through faulty channels. Smuggling already exists in other markets, such as cigarettes.
It would have been very unfortunate, after the positive efforts of all the parties during committee consideration, to end up with a bill that does not ensure adequate supply and, above all, has serious flaws and generates smuggling.
Even today, at report stage, amendments are being proposed to ensure that this bill is as good as it can be.
I believe that we can be proud of the result. We will be among the first countries in the world to have tabled such legislation. To my knowledge, Norway has introduced similar legislation. However, Canada's capacity to produce pharmaceutical products is much greater than Norway's. Consequently, the precedent we are creating is being scrutinized by countries around the world to see if they should adopt such legislation.
It is important too for research companies and the generic drug industry that this service be provided. There has been much criticism of the fact that, in the past, profits have been more important than the need to make pharmaceutical products available. This bill is one way to counter this reality and ensure that, in fact, the efforts made in the past, both by research companies and by the generic drug companies, have a greater impact, through a truly satisfactory mechanism for distributing essential drugs to developing countries.
I think that the speech by my colleague who preceded me and who is from a region of the world that will be able to benefit from the results of our work, says it best of all.
We have before us a bill that all parliamentarians can be proud of. We have an opportunity, and this is not often the case here, to unanimously agree on the objectives of this legislation.
Remember last fall, when this bill was up for second reading. The House was about to prorogue. An effort was made by all the parties in the House to have the bill referred to the committee. Once again, and this has been the case for several weeks or months, we have a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, because of the possibility of an election call. We made the necessary efforts in committee to ensure that the bill would get to report stage today and possibly to third reading tomorrow, and we hope that it can be quickly sent to the Senate and passed.
Ultimately, people will benefit from the availability of medication. We are not talking about commercial products. We are talking about products that will help save many lives. It is this spirit that should motivate us in passing this legislation. We worked to that end in committee.
I think that, in a way, we are answering a cry from the heart from people living in developing countries in ensuring that drugs can be available more quickly and at a lesser cost, at a very reasonable cost. Let us hope that our work will achieve this result as quickly as possible.
Let us proceed with the amendments this afternoon and with third reading tomorrow, so as to make this legislation effective as quickly as possible to ensure that the people on this planet who have the greatest need for medication can get it, even though they cannot afford it.
London North Centre
Joe Fontana Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Science and Small Business)
Madam Speaker, let me begin by saying that I think this is Canada's finest hour, and also Parliament's finest hour, because my colleagues who have spoken before me have all indicated how all political parties have been able to come together in the committee to bring forward at report stage this bill that has practically unanimous approval.
I thank my colleagues on the committee who have worked so hard to get it to this point. They realize, as the government realizes, that this is Canada, and that we will be the first country in the world to put forward legislation and hopefully implement it as quickly as possible so that the drugs can get to the people who are dying.
I want to say to the people who sometimes watch this place that Parliament does some fine work and committees do some fine work, and this most important piece of legislation is in fact an indication of how Parliament and all political parties, when there is a national consensus to move forward, can in fact do so.
In this House we debate many bills that have a profound impact on the day to day lives of Canadians. Rarely, though, do we have an opportunity to debate a bill with such potentially far reaching benefits for the world at large. This is the type of legislation of which Canadians rightly can be proud.
Through Bill C-9, we reaffirm our compassion and our commitment to being a leader in the international community. It seems that every day we in the developed world are beset with fresh and disturbing statistics on the scope and extent of public health problems affecting much of the developing world. These facts and figures are very nearly beyond comprehension. Nowhere is this more true than with the AIDS and HIV pandemic.
HIV-AIDS has torn apart families and has caused untold suffering in some of the poorest parts of the world. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 40 million people are now living with HIV-AIDS, with 95% of them living in developing countries. An additional 14,000 infections occur each and every day. Last year alone, the disease claimed roughly three million lives worldwide.
HIV infection also fuels other epidemics of global concern, most notably tuberculosis, which has become the leading cause of death not only among people living with HIV but also among their HIV negative family members and contacts. One-third of the world's population is now infected with TB bacillus, with more than eight million people developing the active disease and two million dying each and every year.
As my hon. colleagues have already indicated, the situation is not without hope. We are seeing a renewed commitment and engagement around the world to address this global catastrophe. In June 2001, for example, the international community witnessed the creation of the UN's global fund to fight HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
In September 2003, we saw the launch of the World Health Organization's “three by five” strategy, which aims to provide three million people in developing countries with AIDS treatment by the end of 2005. As well, organizations such as the Clinton Foundation, an international AIDS trust, are raising awareness in North America and around the world. This is encouraging, but more needs to be done. That is why we must lead with our support for Bill C-9.
Again I want to thank the committee members. I know we are debating the technical amendments that may be required to make this bill even better, but let me set out in context what this bill really does.
As we know, the World Trade Organization, which is concerned with agreements on trade related aspects of intellectual property rights, otherwise known as TRIPS, set out these international rules relating to trade in intellectual property matters. TRIPS has traditionally placed a strong emphasis on the protection of private property rights. However, these are the provisions that allow members to adopt measures necessary to safeguard public health and promote the public interest.
Of particular relevance is article 31. This is the article that expressly allows members to override the rights of patent holders by licensing the use of a patented invention to a third party if it is necessary to respond to domestic public health emergencies. That is precisely what Bill C-9 does and that is precisely what some of the amendments need to do.
Not only did the committee members work together, we heard from a number of witnesses. We heard from the brand companies, the generic companies and the NGOs. All of us in this place came together with the five departments of this government to work together and come up with a workable bill. All of us in this place know that bills and regulations sometimes can be cumbersome, but with everyone's help, we have a great bill.
I can say that the brand companies in Canada are already delivering drugs to the poorest countries in the world. The generic companies in Canada also want to do that. The NGOs, which are part of the lifeblood of delivering assistance to the people of the world, have to be complimented and acknowledged, because without their human infrastructure and their actual delivery of the medicines, the people would not get them. The NGOs are of incredible value to the system. I applaud them for giving us their inspiration and for showing us the way toward a great bill.
I want to talk specifically about the amendments that the member for Windsor West has brought forward. I want to assure the member that the government amendment in the first instance wanted to ensure that NGOs would not be precluded from helping to address the needs of those people, but we know that this is a country to country arrangement. While another amendment came forward to further clarify the NGO role as it relates the importing country, I want to reassure the member. I heard what he had to say.
We cannot be supportive of reverting back. After all, the committee listened to the information, had a debate and, at the end of the day, decided to change the wording. I want to assure the member that in no way does the subamendment take away the opportunity for NGOs to play a meaningful part. Yes, it needs to be a country to country arrangement. Yes, the NGOs obviously will need to have the approval of the importing country. We all know that. That is what is required under the WTO. But in no way do we believe that the subamendment, which was passed and is now part of the bill, will make it impossible for NGOs to play the meaningful part that the member really advocated for very well at committee. We are very supportive of what we had already changed. This particular amendment by the member for Windsor West unfortunately flies in the face of what the committee did, and that was to decide which amendment was better. Again, I want to acknowledge his great contribution although we cannot support his amendment.
We are also talking about Motions Nos. 14 and 18. Again I want to applaud the member for Windsor West. Through a number of different amendments, which we have just accepted, he has added to the list certain drugs and their prescribed dosages. I want to thank him as well as other members of committee and members of the House who saw that these medicines could be added to the list. He brought them to our attention and we decided to move very quickly and add them to the schedule.
While we cannot support Motions No. 14 and 18, because there are some technical and health issues that need to be cleared up, and while I know that the intent was to deal with tuberculosis, I think we have to be very careful. We have to look to our experts for advice because these drugs have not yet been approved in Canada. We cannot move them into the schedule until such time as they have been approved.
I can reassure the member and the House that Motions Nos. 14 and 18 dealing those two drugs will be moved to the advisory committee as quickly as possible. I think that with some expert insight we can move them along as quickly as possible, but I think the House should be respectful of those professions that know more than some of us do with regard to medicines and their impact.
Let me reassure members that even though we cannot support Motions Nos. 14 and 18, those two drugs will be moved on to the advisory committee as quickly as possible and hopefully we will be able to put them on the schedule.