Saying vs. Doing

Canada’s Conservative party has never struck me as one to be tough on corporate mistakes. So you can understand my surprise in hearing that Health Canada is gearing up to sign an bill into law that allows parliament to fine offending corporations $5 million dollars per day.

Take a moment to get your jaw off the floor, and then consider taping it into place. The bill will also allow the government to dump executives of said offending corporations into jail.

Who are the potential offenders? Pharmaceutical companies. Yes; the government is taking at at Big Pharma. I still don’t believe it, or at least don’t believe the bill will make it into law.

The bill is being advertised as “Vanessa’s Law” because it was tabled after a minister’s daughter died because of a prescription medication (Prepulsid).

The full list of what Health Canada can do to is as follows:

  • Require mandatory adverse drug reaction reporting by health-care institutions.
  • Allow the federal government to recall unsafe products.
  • Provide the courts with discretion to impose even stronger fines if violations were caused intentionally.
  • Compel drug companies to revise labels to clearly reflect health risk.
  • Compel drug companies to do further testing on a product, including when issues are identified with certain at-risk populations such as children.
  • Impose new penalties for unsafe products, including jail time and new fines up to $5 million a day. That’s an increase from the current $5,000 a day.

The Problem

Corporate decision making. Many companies have shareholders that also share in running the company, usually forming boards of directors and things of that nature. Further complicating any implication in criminal negligence, individual parts of the company have individuals responsible for what happens in that part of the company. So the question is “Who do we throw in jail?”

To be honest, I hope Health Canada has serious reach when it comes to narrowing down the candidates in that kind of search. Criminalizing something does not always halt that activity, so saying it is illegal is not going to be enough and there had better be ways of following through on what I think are big promises.

The Bottom Line

I like what is being proposed. It seems to protect consumers and is designed to keep appropriate agencies informed. Potential fines and jail time are great added value.

That said, I think following through on jail time for the right person will be like trying to get directions from a deaf mute that knows excellent sign language that is definitely not the sign you learned in a university elective.