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Pharmacists concerned as U.S. eyes cheaper Canadian meds

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Any move by the White House to give Americans greater access to Canadian medications could worsen existing supply problems, Ontario Pharmacists Association Chair Jennifer Baker says.

“We are experiencing more drug shortages in the last three to five years than we have in the past — it’s been quite bad lately,” Baker said Thursday. “And this news of importation could provide that additional stress that could exacerbate those shortages for Canadian patients.”

She said pharmacists have seen shortages in a variety of medications, including cardiovascular drugs and antidepressants.

Reasons for the shortages have ranged from manufacturing issues to a shortfall of raw ingredients, she said.

Under the Safe Importation Action Plan announced by President Donald Trump this week, the U.S. could allow certain drugs from Canada to be imported.

“President Trump has been clear: for too long American patients have been paying exorbitantly high prices for prescription drugs that are made available to other countries at lower prices,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Wednesday.


U.S. President Donald Trump walks out of the White House before departing July 19, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to ensure Canadians have access to medication they need at affordable prices.

Trudeau said Health Canada ensures there is a “steady and solid supply” of medications for Canadians regardless of external or international pressures.

Several groups, including the Canadian Pharmacists Association, issued warnings that the Canadian supply cannot support both Canadian and U.S. consumers.

Individual American patients are already purchasing over-the-counter products such as insulin and EpiPens which are cheaper in Canada, Baker said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the race to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election, came to Windsor Sunday with an “insulin caravan” of patients seeking the drug at a fraction of the price.

Trump’s plan would allow the mass importation of medications, not just those available over the counter, Baker said.

“That becomes concerning for our entire prescription medication supply,” she said. “As pharmacists, our ultimate duty is to our patients in Canada and safeguarding that medication supply is really crucial to ensure that we’re able to best care for their health here in Canada.”

A Canadian Pharmacists Association survey found about 80% of pharmacists have noticed a significant increase in drugs shortages over the last three to five years, 96% of pharmacists are stressed by the current issues around drug shortages and recalls, and up to 20% of time in a pharmacist’s shift can be spent dealing with the problem, Baker said.

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Person found dead after 5-alarm fire at Toronto apartment building

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One person has been found dead after a five-alarm fire ripped through a Toronto apartment building on Friday and police say they are treating the death as suspicious.

Fire crews said the deceased person was located on an eighth-floor balcony shortly after 1 a.m.

“When we were able to achieve an upper hand on the fire, that allowed us to be a little bit more systemic in the work that we were doing,” Deputy Fire Chief Tony Bavota told reporters at the scene Saturday morning.

“Some secondary searches were conducted and some investigations, at which point a body was located on one of the balconies.”

In a tweet sent at 10:40 a.m., police said they are now treating the death as “suspicious.”

There is no word on the victim’s age or gender.

Another person was transported from the scene with serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Five others were assessed by paramedics at the scene.

Emergency crews were called to the 15-storey apartment building on Gosford Boulevard, west of Jane Street and south of Steeles Avenue West, just before 5:30 p.m. on Friday after a fire spread to several units across multiple floors.

It took firefighters more than six hours to declare the blaze was extinguished.

“It was an extremely difficult fire for our staff to fight and that was coupled with the fact that the elevators weren’t working,” Bavota said, adding that several units have “a lot” of damage.

Toronto fire Chief Matthew Pegg said in a tweet Saturday that the “comprehensive investigation” into exactly where the fire started, what caused it and the circumstances contributing to its spread and growth is continuing.

Inspectors have since ordered the power shut off at the apartment building, causing hundreds of tenants to be displaced.

“The Electrical Safety Authority has determined that the power to the entire building must immediately be disconnected for safety reasons. The building must be evacuated,” Pegg wrote in a post on Twitter early Saturday.

Toronto police said in an update on Twitter that residents were asked to “seek temporary shelter with friends/family” as arrangements were being made to help those without accommodations.

Pegg said approximately 700 people live inside the apartment building. Many were initially told to shelter in place as others were evacuated. Several TTC buses were brought in to provide temporary shelter.

Mayor John Tory and Pegg announced displaced residents would be able to go the Driftwood Community Centre Friday night. It was opened with the assistance of the Canadian Red Cross.

Investigators from the Office of the Fire Marshal, Toronto Fire Services and Toronto Police Service were brought in to probe the fire’s origin and circumstances. As of Saturday morning, the cause of the fire wasn’t clear. Electrical and technical inspectors also attended the scene, but it’s unclear when utilities might be restored.

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Jason Kenney caucus to get free vote on conscience rights bill

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EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says members of his caucus would be free to vote as they wish on a private member’s bill that calls for giving further protection to health workers who invoke conscience rights.

Kenney says his United Conservative caucus allows free votes on issues of conscience.

“We’ll leave it to MLAs to make a decision,” Kenney said Friday.

Kenney said he has not read and therefore can’t say if he would vote yes to Bill 207, which was put forward by United Conservative backbencher Dan Williams.

But Kenney said, “As a matter of principle I, and I hope everybody, respects the constitutionally protected freedom of conscience.”

If Bill 207 is approved, it would mean a health-care provider could not be sued or sanctioned for refusing to provide a service — such as abortion, assisted dying, or contraception — that goes against their moral beliefs.

Right now, Alberta doctors who don’t want to perform those services must refer the patient to someone or to a service that can — but the bill raises questions on whether health providers could be sanctioned for failing to do even that.

NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said the bill is a back-door way to restrict access to abortion and contraception. She said she is hearing those concerns from officials in rural areas where access to physicians and services can be limited.

“There’s already enough challenges for women to access birth control and abortion services and they (the officials) think this has the risk to make it more difficult and to really hurt rural health care,” said Hoffman.

Williams said there is misinformation being circulated about the legislation. He said it seeks only to clarify that health-care providers rights are in line with the Charter.

“I want to be absolutely clear: This bill in no way categorically limits access to any services. That is not my intent. That is not what the bill does.”

The Alberta Medical Association has written to Health Minister Tyler Shandro to say the current rules are working and that Williams’ bill is unnecessary and is already causing anxiety for doctors and patients.

“The bill may have unintended consequences in limiting patient access to services,” AMA president Christine Molnar told Shandro in a public letter sent Wednesday.

“For physicians, the current state protects conscience rights while also ensuring that patients are given information or referral to allow them to pursue access to the desired service.

“This arrangement has served Albertans well and should be maintained.”

Williams has said his bill is in response to an Ontario Appeal Court ruling this spring.

Ontario’s high court affirmed a lower court ruling that found physicians who object on moral grounds to contentious issues like abortion must offer patients an “effective referral” to another health provider.

Kenney, a Catholic, has said his government would not legislate on judicially settled hot button issues like abortion.

Kenney said Friday he is keeping to that commitment because Williams, while a member of Kenney’s United Conservative caucus, is not in cabinet and is therefore not formally part of the UCP government.

“Private members have every right to bring forward bills, perhaps in some cases that they committed to their constituents on, and they will be voted on freely,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2019.

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2 B.C. First Nations drop out of Trans Mountain court challenge

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Two B.C. First Nations that had been part of a court challenge against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have now left the group and sided with the Crown corporation.

The Upper Nicola Band, based in Merritt, and the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, based in Kamloops, have dropped their litigation with the Federal Court of Appeal and signed deals with Trans Mountain.

Four other B.C. First Nations are continuing with their case against the expansion project, which they argue was approved despite “multiple significant legal deficiencies.”

Court rules 6 Trans Mountain pipeline legal challenges allowed to proceed

In a joint news release with Trans Mountain Friday, the Upper Nicola Band said its deal represents a “significant step forward in establishing a relationship” that will address the First Nation’s environmental, archaeological and cultural heritage concerns.

The agreement actively involves the Upper Nicola in emergency response and monitoring of the project, while committing both parties to working to avoid and mitigate impacts on the band’s interests and stewardship areas.

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Band members are also encouraged to take advantage of employment and contracting opportunities with the project.

In the release, Upper Nicola Chief Harvey McLeod says the band’s negotiating team came up with the “best deal” possible “under the circumstances presented.”

“The bottom line is that the consultation process needs to change,” McLeod said, adding the First Nation still has “a number of significant issues that must be addressed directly with Canada.”

A news release from Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc says its leadership came together and determined an agreement could be a tool used as part of a larger strategy to protect its cultural, spiritual and historical connections to the land.

A Trans Mountain spokesperson confirmed the two bands dropped out of the court challenge last week after continued discussions with the corporation.

The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations in Metro Vancouver, the Coldwater Indian Band in Merritt and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley are still involved in the court challenge against Trans Mountain.

The First Nations launched the challenge in July with the belief that a victory on any of the legal grounds would be enough to quash the current approval and send the pipeline back to the drawing board.

The court has ruled that upcoming arguments can only focus on whether the latest round of Indigenous consultation was adequate.

Last week, the Tsleil-Waututh and three environmental groups sought leave to appeal that ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, claiming the Federal Court was wrong to refuse to hear arguments about the risk of an oil spill or threats to endangered southern killer whales.

The federal government re-approved the pipeline in June after launching consultation with Indigenous communities. The National Energy Board also conducted new hearings and ultimately gave the project the thumbs up for the second time.

The legal filings from the First Nations argue there were constitutional violations, primarily around the failure to satisfy the duty to consult, accommodate and seek consent from First Nations. The lawsuits also allege regulatory legal errors were made by the National Energy Board.

First Nations communities are divided on the project. There are two groups led by Indigenous communities that want to purchase and operate the existing pipeline from the federal government, with the intention to expand it.

There are other First Nations arguing that the pipeline would destroy significant spiritual and historic sites as well as important aquifers, impeding their ability to practice their culture and exercise Indigenous rights.

— With files from Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press

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