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Canwest bid to loosen Canada's drug ad laws adjourned

VICTORIA – Opponents of Canwest Global Communication Corp.'s attempt to loosen the laws regulating drug advertising in Canada say the corporation asked for an adjournment in the case because of its precarious financial position.

But a spokesperson for Canwest says the company did not ask for the adjournment and plans to continue the case in the fall.

“It was at their request,” said Steven Shrybman, an Ottawa lawyer representing a coalition of groups opposed to loosening the laws that restrict drug companies from advertising pharmaceuticals directly to consumers. “They made the request for the adjournment. This was three days before the case was to be heard.”

It's clear Canwest isn't in a financial position to fight a major case in court, he said. “They might not be around long enough to argue the case.”

The coalition, an intervener in the Ontario Superior Court case, agreed to the adjournment since the case may just disappear, he said. If the case were argued, he said, the case against Canwest's challenge is strong.

But Canwest's vice president of public affairs, John Douglas, said the coalition is wrong to suggest his company's financial trouble had anything to do with the adjournment. “I don't know where they would get that from,” he said.

The company didn't even ask to delay the case, he said. “We consented to it as well.”

It's true “we have a lot on our plate right now,” Douglas said, but he expects the case will continue in the fall. “It's an adjournment. We still believe the case has its merits and we look forward to presenting the case.”

"Consumers in Canada are now heaving a $400 million sigh of relief," said Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria who has paid attention to the court challenge over the last year. That's how much money Canwest stood to make if the challenge was successful, he said.

"Now if we could only get Health Canada to properly enforce our current prohibitions properly, Canadians could get on with accessing dependable, objective consumer drug information instead of being exposed to the nightly televised images of happy men dancing around due to their erectile dysfunction medicine," he said.

“Our particular concern was about the impact on women,” said Anne Rochon Ford, the co-ordinator of the group Women and Health Protection, one of the groups opposed to Canwest's challenge. Women already consume more drugs than men and are frequently the target of advertising, she said.

“We thought it was important for the courts to know women are concerned about opening up the law any more than it is.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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