Health Canada should beef up drug-monitoring system, says prof

Health Canada did not pull a pain drug off the market until US officials made the decision to recall it, a move sparking criticism of the government’s ability to act independently to protect the safety of Canadians from potentially dangerous medications, reported The Globe and Mail Dec. 3.

Health Canada and Paladin Labs Inc. announced a recall Wednesday of Darvon-N, the brand name of dextropropoxyphene, also known as propoxyphene, after new research showed the drug is linked to serious abnormal heart rhythms. The announcement came less than two weeks after the US Food and Drug Administration decided the drug should be removed from the market.

But widespread safety concerns about the drug have actually been around for decades, and prompted Britain and the European Union to ban Darvon-N amid fears it was linked to suicide and accidental overdose.

Joel Lexchin, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, said Health Canada should have taken an active role with respect to Darvon-N, as well as other drugs. The department’s follow-the-leader behaviour exposes major shortcomings and weaknesses in its drug monitoring capabilities, he said.

"This drug should have been off the market 30 years ago," Lexchin said in an interview Thursday. "Unfortunately, it took this long to get it off the market."

Health Canada should beef up its system for monitoring the safety of drugs as well as tracking the number of patients who experience serious side effects, he said.

Ontario appeal court freezes prostitution law

The country’s prostitution laws will remain in limbo for at least another five months after an Ontario judge decided against taking the risk of decriminalizing the sale of sex immediately, reported The Globe and Mail Dec. 3.

However, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Marc Rosenberg noted that some federal arguments for propping up the law had been weak, particularly "overblown" claims that police would be hamstrung when it comes to controlling street prostitution and investigating pimping.

The stay was imposed by Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel last September, after she struck down the laws governing pimping, keeping a brothel and communicating for the purposes of prostitution.

Judge Rosenberg said that the stay will continue until late April, when the Court of Appeal is expected to hear an appeal of Judge Himel’s ruling.

York University law professor Alan Young, who represents the sex-trade workers, sympathized with the fact that Rosenberg had been unable to examine all of the evidence that went into Himel’s decision. "It’s business as usual for the government, which means a bad law will continue to be under-enforced," Young said.

  • Postmedia news service, in a related story Dec. 2, reported that Alan Young, who brought the constitutional challenge to the Ontario court in 2007, said the main issue is that sex-trade workers will continue to be prevented from establishing “safe houses” where they can work and operate legally.  

Why aren’t we teaching more CanLit?

Never mind the acclaim of Canadian writers abroad and this fall’s wealth of literary festivals and big book prizes. There’s a shocking disconnect between the international success of Canadian writing and how Canadian literature is viewed in our schools, wrote Susan Swan, novelist and former chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, in an essay published in The Globe and Mail Dec. 3.

As a Canadian author, wrote Swan, the weird disconnect is frustrating. If we want to understand our culture, why not study Canadian books? But if we want to cling to an old national inferiority complex, then what better way than keeping students ignorant of our literature?

When I taught an arts course at York University, the first thing students wanted to know was how I saw the difference between us and Americans. I’d start them off with a joke about a US border guard frustrated with a traveller who said he had American and Canadian passports. Exasperated, the guard asked the traveller what he would do if his country went to war. The traveller replied that it would depend on the war and why they were fighting. The guard exclaimed: Now I know! You’re Canadian.

Skepticism, I would explain, is a Canadian trait, along with tolerance and cultural diversity. On that course, students read fiction by Canadian authors such as Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Nino Ricci [BA ’81] and Mordecai Richler. By exam time, they were no longer asking me what it meant to be Canadian.