August 20, 2006
Health Canada Betrayed Trust
Canadians needlessly suffered and died as a result of decision
By Licia Corbella
If it's true that Health Canada's mandate is to protect the health of Canadians -- as its name suggests -- then the federal government needs to call an inquiry into the disgraceful and deadly actions of this agency.
During a recent trial in a Calgary courtroom, Health Canada officials shockingly acknowledged under oath that even though they knew stopping a vitamin and mineral supplement -- that helps about 10,000 people with severe mental health issues lead normal lives -- from being sold in Canada could cause deaths, they blindly and callously followed the letter of an outmoded law anyway.
Indeed, during the two-week March trial against the makers of Empowerplus (Synergy Group of Canada and Truehope Nutritional Support) one expert witness testified that he knew of at least two people who committed suicide after they relapsed into severe depression once they could no longer get the supplement.
The company was on trial for not having a Drug Identification Number (DIN). They were charged with the crime even after the law no longer applied to natural health products.
On July 28, Alberta Provincial Court Judge Gerald Meagher found Truehope and the company's founders Tony Stephen and David Hardy not guilty because the company was entitled to the "defense of necessity."
Also evidence showed getting a DIN was impossible for natural health products and that more than 90% of natural health products didn't comply with the law.
Judge Meagher ruled that "the harm avoided by continuing to sell the product was unquestionably greater than the harm inflicted on the regulatory process."
"Everyone who undertakes to do an act is under a legal duty to do it, if an omission to do the act may be dangerous to life," wrote Judge Meagher.
"The defendants could have been at risk of criminal prosecution if they stopped providing the supplement and providing the support program," the judge ruled.
"Claiming that they had to comply with a DIN regulation would not have provided them with any defence" against the much more serious charges of negligence causing death.
In other words, the harm would have been far greater to not provide Empowerplus to their clients, than to violate a technical regulation that was soon to be changed anyway.
Ron LaJeunesse was the head of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Alberta when Health Canada outlawed the importation of Empowerplus into Canada from the U.S. in March 2003.
LaJeunesse testified that he warned Health Canada repeatedly that people were growing suicidal as a result of being denied Empowerplus.
Sadly, his prediction came to pass.
First, a mother called saying her daughter relapsed and became depressed after being denied the supplement for about two weeks. The daughter overdosed on pills she had been on previously and died. "I was invited to the funeral," testified LaJeunesse.
"The second call came from a father who indicated that his son had suicided as a result of not wanting to return to the state of illness he had been in prior to taking this product."
LaJeunesse informed Health Canada of these deaths and eventually even made the suicides public, but Health Canada was not swayed from its "blind" and "vexatious" adherence to the letter of the lesser law.
Miles Brosseau, an official with Health Canada, chillingly testified during the trial that Health Canada would enforce its policy even if it resulted in the deaths of Canadians.
In the official court transcript, Truehope's defence attorney, Shawn Buckley asked Brosseau: "So if you were sent a document ... showing that people were dying because of what Health Canada was doing ... you would just ignore that because it's not a policy or directive?"
Brosseau answered: "Yes."
Meanwhile, Health Canada had its own health hazard evaluation done on the supplement and described Empowerplus as a "type 2" product, meaning that the "possibility of harm" was "remote."
In other words, Health Canada knew, allowing the supplement to be used was safe; not allowing it was deadly, and still it pursued and prosecuted the company and its users.
During the trial, Health Canada was ordered to release documents that showed more than 1,000 desperate and often sobbing Canadians contacted Health Canada to plead for the supplement.
Transcripts of their calls are heart wrenching. Only the Rocky Mountains -- and apparently Health Canada officials -- could remain unmoved.
Buckley has sent Federal Health Minister Tony Clement a 19-page letter, dated Aug. 8, detailing numerous grounds as to why a public inquiry into the actions of Health Canada should be held, including evidence of "abuse of process" and ignoring harm to Canadians.
"The trust Canadians have in Health Canada to protect them from harm has been shaken," wrote Buckley in the letter.
"If in this case Health Canada deliberately or recklessly caused harm, the
public's confidence can only be restored by holding Health Canada to account."
A spokesperson with Health Canada said officials are checking to see if there is any grounds for appeal. They have until Aug. 29.
Canadians needlessly died and suffered grief as a result of Health Canada's stubborn following of a law they knew was changing anyway and did on Jan. 1, 2004.
Health Canada's mandate is to protect the health of Canadians.
An inquiry is needed to find out why Health Canada caused so many people so much harm instead.
For more information on the product call: 1-888-TRUEHOPE (1-888-878-3467) or log onto www.truehope.com