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Mon 21/03/2011 - The campaign to fix Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) - so that more affordable live-saving medicines can get to developing countries - has just one more round to go. The Senate will be dealing with Bill C-393 this week - and the potential exists (please see specific points below) to quickly approve this legislation and respect the will of the House of Commons - the people's will.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has prepared this updated primer on the policy and political aspects of this important issue. We would be pleased to provide you with further information and/or arrange an interview for you with Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Legal Network. We are also happy to facilitate interviews for you with other appropriate contacts.

Victory in the House

Thanks to an intense advocacy campaign by civil society groups and supported by thousands of Canadians, MPs voted strongly in favour of Bill C-393 (172 for and 111 against) at third reading on March 9 th . This sizable majority exceeded the expectations of activists who have been campaigning for years to fix CAMR. All MPs from the New Democratic Party (which sponsored the bill) and the Bloc Québécois supported the bill, and the overwhelming majority of Liberal Party MPs voted in favour (with only 2 voting against). From the Conservative Party, 26 backbenchers voted for the bill; regrettably, the Conservative government partially whipped its vote, requiring Cabinet Ministers and parliamentary secretaries to vote against the bill.

The final bill included:

•  restoration of the "one-licence solution" - which forms the core of the reforms to streamline the current CAMR; and

•  a more manageable 10 year sunset clause, requiring Parliament to review and if agreeable, to make permanent the legislation at that time. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and other advocates have opposed any sunset clause on principle, but this clause represents a compromise that should still allow for economies of scale and sufficiently long-term supply arrangements to make it viable for generic pharmaceutical manufacturers and eligible importing countries to make effective use of CAMR.

Race against time in the Senate

Despite Bill C-393's passage in the House of Commons, it must also now be passed by a majority vote in the Senate - and this must happen before Parliament ends, which seems increasingly likely to happen, possibly within days.

Fortunately, if there is the political will, the Senate's procedures easily allow for it to pass Bill C-393 in a matter of days. The Liberal Party has confirmed publicly that its Senators will support the legislation in the Senate and support dealing with it in a timely fashion.

The key question, therefore, is what Conservative Senators, who constitute a majority in the Senate (unlike the House of Commons), will do. Already there are expressions of support from some Conservative Senators, but concern remains about what approach the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will take, given its opposition to the bill to date. 

It should be remembered that, when CAMR was first created in 2004, Senators moved quickly and unanimously to approve a bill with urgent humanitarian objectives that had widespread support in the House of Commons and among the public - all of which are again the case today. In addition, the current Senate is already very familiar with this legislation. In 2009, the Banking Committee dealt with a virtually identical bill (Bill S-232) which enjoyed support from a number of Conservative Senators. The Committee heard from all the expert witnesses it felt necessary and retains a very complete file on the issues involved. Regrettably, that bill died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued later that same year.

The bill is currently scheduled for second reading on Monday, March 21 st and could be passed by the middle of the week if there is a desire to see this humanitarian initiative become law.

The Legal Network, with the support of thousands of grassroots campaigners, has launched as part of its effort to urge the Senate to do the right thing and pass Bill C-393 quickly. In addition, Avaaz has launched a similar action at . In total, more than 23,000 emails have been sent - in a matter of only days - to Senators from concerned Canadians voicing their opinion that the Senate must act quickly to pass this humanitarian bill; in fact, so many Canadians have called Senators and the Prime Minister's Office in the past few days that there have been reports of "jammed lines" and assistants trying to keep up with the flow of calls. In the days leading up to the vote in the House of Commons, more than 45,000 Canadians signed a similar petition from Avaaz. The public support for Bill C-393 is both widespread and vocal.

For more information please visit . You may also follow the Legal Network on Twitter at for updates. If you have any questions, require additional information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Chris Holcroft
Empower Consulting for the Legal Network

Janet Butler-McPhee
Director of Communications,
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Telephone: +1 416 595-1666 ext. 228,
416-268-2549 (cell)

Reproduced with permission - "Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network"

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

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