Canada: A Haven for Internet Pharmacies and Organized Crime

In 2005, the FDA launched an investigation into pharmaceuticals bought from “Canadian” internet pharmacies online and shipped to US consumers. Of 1700 packages these pharmacies supplied, fully 85 percent of those actually came from somewhere else, but 15 percent really came from Canada.  Worse, 32 of the drugs were found to be counterfeit.  All of these pacakges were entering the US illegally, so it is interesting to ask, why is there a Canadian theme—both authentic and copied by others—to the internet pharmacy business?

We recently published an article with some answers to this question – read it (
here) . Canada gained a reputation for internet pharmacy when it became big business around the turn of the century (yielding about $400 million annually by 2003) when Andrew Strempler, Kris Thorkelson, and others from the province of Manitoba discovered the wealth to be made from selling prescription drugs to Americans who could capitalize on favorable exchange rates and price controls north of the border.

At first the products that these Canadian internet pharmacies sold were legitimately sourced in Canada and approved by Health Canada, but later, the internet pharmacies began sourcing medicines from farther afield, such as India or Turkey—places where medicines entirely bypass Health Canada and its safety regulations.  Doing so is unequivocally illegal in Canadian law.
[if gte mso 9]> Yet despite the law being broken on a daily basis, Canada has taken suspiciously little action to enforce the law.  Canadian officials have never brought a prosecution—not even one—against Canadians who trade medicines online illegally.  Canada has even refused to prosecute those Canadians who have been found guilty of crimes in the US, such as Mr. Strempler or Nathan Jacobson, another Manitoban who conspired to launder money for an Israeli internet pharmacy. 

Canada’s inaction is not mere oversight, but a deliberate policy choice to make this country a haven for organized crime.  As long ago as 2005, the Conservative Party of Canada passed a motion
in Parliament declaring that the Health Minister should not take any action against even illegal internet pharmacies.  But refusing to enforce the law does make the actions of the internet pharmacies legal, and Health Canada’s own legal opinion makes that abundantly clear:

It is a violation of the [federal] Food and Drugs Act and Food and Drug Regulations to advertise or sell, at retail or via the Internet, drugs that are not approved for sale in Canada. This applies to all Canadian pharmacies selling over the Internet, even in cases where the unapproved drugs do not enter Canada but are dispensed by foreign pharmacies and delivered to patients outside of Canada. Pharmacies licensed in Canada that engage in such activity are considered to be advertising and selling unapproved drugs in Canada.

In the wake of last year’s
Avastin scare, which involved a fake cancer medicine trafficked by companies affiliated with Winnipeg-based, we wrote to Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, in March 2013 complaining that the federal government never enforces the laws against illegal internet pharmacies.  We got back a polite, but empty response from the Prime Minister’s office, who forwarded our letter to the Health Minister. After more than half a year, her staff answered stating that Health Canada is “aware of the health and safety risks”, and admitted that while “some of Health Canada's authorities are quite clear,” it prefers instead to focus attention “where authorities are unclear.”

We question why a regulatory authority would refrain from enforcing laws that it says are clear, so as to focus its attention on laws that are unclear.  But avoidance seems to be Canada’s preferred approach, and in none of the responses from the Prime Minister or Health Canada was it promised that the authorities will investigate, much less prosecute, the family of companies for the appalling act of furnishing patients fake cancer medicine. 

But that is not all.  When two months ago we provided the authorities with fresh evidence of what appear to be rampant criminal violations nobody seems to be investigating.

On 3 July 2014 we sent a written complaint to
Health Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Pharmacists’ Colleges in Manitoba and British Columbia, —and even the personal Blackberries of the Minister of Health and Minister of Public Safety—alleging the illegal selling and advertising of unapproved drugs by specific internet pharmacies in British Columbia and Manitoba.  You can read our (complaint here)  with all the supporting evidence. 

Basically, we alleged that 17 internet pharmacies on Canadian soil are breaking the law, by advertising medicines sourced from foreign countries or medicines that do not even exist in Canada in any form.  All these Canadian internet pharmacies have an appearance of legitimacy: they either hold accreditations from or the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, or have licenses for online sales from the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba, or are affiliated with brick-and-mortar pharmacies in British Columbia.  

Over a month after filing this complaint, we have had a cursory acknowledgement from the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, but nothing from Manitoba, the RCMP, Health Canada, or the two Ministers.  Nobody has told us that criminal investigations are underway.

The refusal to investigate clear breaches of law leads to an incontrovertible conclusion: Canada’s highest officials—including the Health Minister, Public Safety Minister and even the Prime Minister—are aware that Canada is a haven for organized medicine crime, but cannot bother to act, even on matters as serious as the fake cancer medicines allegedly trafficked by  There are even close relationships between some of the criminals and people holding high office.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper even posed for a photo with Mr. Jacobson, the convicted money launderer, right under the noses of his RCMP security detail, despite the fact that Jacobson had jumped bail and was an internationally-wanted fugitive according to Interpol. 

What might it say about the Prime Minister that his heavily-armed police security detail did not apprehend Jacobson right then and there—or any time since?

Whenever politicians have close relationships with criminals, who somehow avoid arrest, it is a sure sign that the rule of law is in severe danger.  We will be reporting back on this blog if there are any developments with our complaint to Health Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Pharmacists’ Colleges in Manitoba and British Columbia and the Ministers of Health and Public Safety.  We will be posting their replies, or denouncing their failure to reply.  Stay tuned.

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