The global struggle for access to COVID-19 vaccines took a dramatic turn recently as the Biden Administration in the United States unexpectedly reversed its longstanding opposition to a patent waiver designed to facilitate access to vaccines in the developing world. The shift seemingly caught many by surprise. Pharmaceutical companies were quick to voice opposition and U.S. allies found themselves being asked to take positions. That was certainly the case in Canada, where the Canadian government has steadfastly refused to support the waiver with repeated claims that it had yet to make a decision.
Ellen ‘t Hoen, is a lawyer and public health advocate with over 30 years of experience working on pharmaceutical and intellectual property policies. From 1999 until 2009 she was the director of policy for Médecins sans Frontières’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. In 2009 she joined UNITAID in Geneva to set up the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). Ellen is currently the director of Medicines Law & Policy and a researcher at the University Medical Centre Groningen. She joins the Lawbytes podcast this week to talk about the fight for a patent waiver and the implications of the Biden decision for global access to COVID vaccines.
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The Department of Justice yesterday released its updated Charter statement on Bill C-10. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the department argued that the bill is Charter compliant. That conclusion was never in doubt as the statement is quite clearly more a political document than a legal analysis. The only real questions were whether the department would seriously grapple with the freedom of expression implications of treating all user generated content as a “program” subject to regulation by the CRTC and if Minister of Justice David Lametti would come to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to answer questions on the statement. It turns out the answer is no to both questions: the statement glosses over the actual concerns with Bill C-10 and Lametti will be a no-show at the committee hearing.
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The Canadian government’s support for net neutrality has long stood as a foundational principle of its approach to the Internet. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would defend net neutrality and expressed concern about the attacks on net neutrality in the U.S. That same year, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly made net neutrality a foundational part of Canadian cultural policy, stating that “as a government, we stand by the principle of net neutrality.” ISED Minister Navdeep Bains adopted the same position, stating “Net neutrality is one of the critical issues of our times, much like freedom of the press and freedom of expression before it.”
Given that freedom of expression is taking a back seat in Bill C-10 with the regulation of user generated content, perhaps it was inevitable that the government would also reverse its position on net neutrality. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault recently gave an interview to the Toronto Star in which he appears to back away from supporting net neutrality, equating it to any Internet regulation:
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Last night, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault posted a remarkable tweet that should heighten concerns about Bill C-10, forthcoming online harms legislation, and the government’s intent with respect to free speech. In the weeks since it opened the door to treating all user generated content as a “program” subject to CRTC regulation, there has been mounting public criticism and concern about the implications for free speech. While the tech companies have remained relatively silent, Canadians have been speaking out. Those voices now include the Government of Saskatchewan, with Minister of Justice Gord Wyant writing to Guilbeault to urge the federal government to stop Bill C-10 from proceeding or amend it to ensure that “all creative Internet content generated by Canadians will be exempt from any regulatory supervision by federal government agencies.”
Given the opposition – as well as Guilbeault’s well-documented disastrous interviews on CBC and CTV – one would have thought the Minister would be seeking to assuage public concern. Instead, Guilbeault took to Twitter last night to suggest that the public anger over Bill C-10 was a matter of “public opinion being manipulated at scale through a deliberate campaign of misinformation by commercial interests that would prefer to avoid the same regulatory oversight applied to broadcast media.”
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