Category Archives: Health

Surviving the Borg

More stories pour in about the crisis in our residential care homes.

No article I’ve written for Focus has provoked so many impassioned calls, emails, posts to my website, and interceptions in the street than my feature about long term care of the elderly (“Who has the Right to Control Your Life?“, January).

Many relatives of seniors said the stories of deteriorating conditions in care homes and people being unfairly stripped of their rights reflected their own experiences. “On Christmas Eve in 2006, my mother was abducted,” described one woman. “[They began] transferring her to different nursing facilities where they were drugging her with so many drugs that she could not lift up her own head…”

Another wrote, “[S]taff have frequently written reports itemizing problems, and the numerous reports are consistently ignored. Continuing issues such as filth-still there; toileting-constant struggle; activities-not very many that actually engage people…”

For these people, seeing the issues publicly aired was heartening.

But many frontline care attendants accused me of being negligently selective in my examples and grossly unfair to them. Continue reading “Surviving the Borg” »

CanWest Global Attacks Drug Ad Laws — Video and References

I’ve released a video based on my previous article on the topic of CanWest Global trying to eliminate Canada’s drug advertising laws.

Update June 2009: Hearings in the case of CanWest Mediaworks vs Canada have been adjourned indefinitely. Yay! For more info contact Anne Rochon Ford, Women and Health Protection, tel: 416-651-7218 <>. Here’s  a release from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the June 12, 2009 press release from Women and Health Protection is below:


Charter challenge on prescription drug advertising adjourned indefinitely

The Charter challenge case on prescription drug advertising between CanWest Mediaworks Inc. and the Attorney General of Canada has been adjourned indefinitely due to the current financial difficulties of the CanWest corporation.

The case was scheduled to be heard before the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario June 15 to 19, 2009.

A coalition of groups, including Women and Health Protection, was granted intervener status in the case to present evidence about the risks to public safety of lifting Canada’s ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. According to Steven Shrybman, the lawyer who legally represents the coalition, this last minute adjournment is past due and will at least avoid further legal expenses for the federal government and the interveners. Shrybman is quoted in a Canadian Medical Association Journal article published on June 11, 2009.

CanWest Mediaworks mounted the Charter challenge to the statutory prohibition on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs in 2005 on the basis that the current regulations on DTCA in Canada infringe on the company’s right to freedom of expression.

Members of the coalition include the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Health Coalition, Women and Health Protection, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Society for Diabetic Rights, the Medical Reform Group and Terence Young.


Here’s the video below, but in fact it’s much better to follow this link to YouTube and choose the option “View in High Quality” just below the video. It makes a big difference! If you don’t see the option and you’re using high speed internet, try a different browser. (And while you’re there, you might also want to check out this video which is about another CanWest Global lawsuit, wherein they’re suing the creators of a parody of the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Together, the two lawsuits give a pretty dark picture of CanWest Global’s intentions in this country…)

That aforementioned article includes various references and links, but below are some more for easy access.

Here’s CanWest’s original press release.

Some elements of the case are available for online viewing through the Canadian Legal Information Institute, Ontario Superior Court. The court affidavits from Health Canada, CanWest Global and various intervenors are available online at the Women and Health Protection website. Of particular relevance for my video are the testimony and references of Dr. John Abramson.  The Health Canada affidavits provide a history of drug ad laws in Canada, and fascinating, heretofore secret information about our government’s attempts to reign in false, illegal and misleading advertising by pharmaceutical companies, like those featuring Diane 35.

Other intervenors in the case include the Canadian Health Coalition, the Federation of Nurses Unions, CUPE, CEP, and the Medical Reform Group.

Here’s an article about the case by Alicia Priest in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and a commentary by author-professor Alan Cassels in the British Medical Journal. The Canadian Medical Association has issued its policy on DTCA.

There has been very limited media coverage of the topic, and in none of the articles that I’ve seen have the media outlets disclosed their own position on the issue. The Globe and Mail ran one piece. CBC radio gave it some coverage. The Toronto Star has done more than most, including this article on a study examining the dollar costs of DTCA in Canada. Here’s the absolutely ridiculous article in the National Post/Financial Post by Peter Foster: Where does this guy get off either blatantly lying or not doing even one iota of research before mouthing off on such an important topic to a national audience? Here’s the U.S. FDA’s list of reprimands to pharmaceutical companies for their false advertising. It’s an interesting site because it actually shows the full text of letters and in some cases copies of the offending ads.

Drug expenditure information from CIHA.

Public Citizen’s analysis of drug company profits in comparison to other Fortune 500 companies.

Disclosure: I’m a full-time freelance researcher and writer, and I wrote and produced this video entirely on my own. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations in any way, and I’ve never received any funding from pharmaceutical companies, CanWest Global, or any of the organizations involved in the court case. If you like independent journalism in Canada, Mom, please send money now!!

Disaster for Sale, 15% Reduced!

I was contemplating how to stay healthy while preventing environmental catastrophe, as I’m wont to do these days. The bus to the ferry stopped next to a billboard. It was a bad omen, fitting for the times.

Nestle, the world’s largest bottled water seller (owning Perrier, S. Pelligrino, Vittel etc) wanted me to know about their “Eco-shape” bottle for Pure Life water. It uses 15% less plastic than some water bottles. A whopping 15%! Nestle added that this 15% less waste allows each of us consumers to positively “make a difference” in the world. (In U.S. ads it’s 30% — those bigger Texan bottles?)

Unfortunately, widely-publicized research has been reminding us recently of the enormous waste, pollution and carbon emissions bottled water production and distribution generate, even while most North Americans can access cheap, safe, efficient public water supplies. Also, bottled water cleanliness is spotty, and recycling of plastic bottles is itself messy and inefficient.

So, from where I was sitting, the most remarkable facet of this ad campaign was that Nestle could run it without fear of being openly mocked throughout our media. Apparently, the corporate ad executives and expert package designers who daily take the pulse of the masses know something: Despite our awareness of the depth and breadth of the environmental and health crises we’re facing, we’re still eager to swallow inane sales pitches and flimsy quick-fixes hook, line and sinker.

Why? Continue reading “Disaster for Sale, 15% Reduced!” »

Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness

The Victoria Times-Colonist ran articles last fall about delinquent doctors remaining licensed to practice. Evidently, doctors’ secretive, self-funded, self-regulating disciplinary and licensing body, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, is more interested in protecting doctors than in protecting the public. Under questioning, provincial government representatives pleaded helplessness; they had no authority over the college.

But after continuing scandalized media coverage, Health Minister George Abbott pledged to legislate more public accountability for our public doctors.

I was skeptical. After all, this scandal wasn’t new. I wrote about it myself for Monday Magazine ten years ago.

A former chief of psychiatry of Victoria’s Eric Martin Pavilion had been found guilty of drugging a female patient into a “zombie-like” state and sexually assaulting her over months while working in Ontario. He was back practising psychiatry here. I interviewed government representatives locally, regionally, provincially and nationally, and they responded in a chorus of, “That’s troubling, but we’re helpless. The college has authority.” Continue reading “Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness” »