Climate Change Litigation in Canada

Join CLAIHR at 12 E.T. on Friday, Nov. 4 for a timely discussion on climate change litigation in Canada. We will host experts on climate change litigation in Canadian courts, including David Wu from Arvay Finlay (La Rose), Richard Overstall from Richard Overstall Law Office (Lho’imggin et. al.), Bruce Johnston from Trudel Johnston & Lesperance (ENVironment JEUnesse), Andrew Gage from West Coast Environmental Law (Sue Big Oil), and Fraser Thomson from Ecojustice. CLE credit may be available.

Sign up here:

By |October 29th, 2022|Current Events, News Releases|

Corporations as Good Citizens: Can respect for human rights and the environment be good business?

Wednesday April 20, 2022  |  12.00 – 13.30 EDT

Please join Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR) for a panel on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) and other corporate responsibility initiatives. Is business that respects for human rights and the environment achievable within the framework of our current system of corporate economic organization? Or are the two fundamentally compatible? The discussion will be moderated by CLAIHR Board member Andrew Cleland, and featured guests will be Joel Bakan, Anita Dorett, Shin Imai, and Mónica Ospina.

This program is eligible for up to 1.5 substantive hours of Continuing Professional Development with the Law Society of Ontario.

To join the panel, please register in advance.

About Joel:

Joel Bakan is an author, filmmaker and a professor of law at the University of British Columbia. A former Rhodes Scholar and law clerk to Chief Justice Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada, Bakan has law degrees from Oxford, Dalhousie, and Harvard.

His critically acclaimed book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004), electrified readers around the world (it was published in over 20 languages), and became a bestseller in several countries. Bakan wrote and co-created (with Mark Achbar) a feature documentary film, The Corporation, based on the book’s ideas and directed by Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The film won numerous awards, including best foreign documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, and was a critical and box office success.

The New Corporation, a sequel to that film, is based on Bakan’s book of the same name and directed by Bakan and Jennifer Abbott.

About Anita:

Anita Dorett is Director for the Investor Alliance for Human Rights. She mobilizes investor leverage to engage corporations on human rights due diligence based on the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights and other international human rights standards and laws across multiple sectors.

Anita has a Master’s in Law from Columbia University, New York focused on Business and Human Rights. Her studies included international human rights law, extractive industries and sustainable development, human rights and development and international environmental law.

Anita brings with her 25 years of experience as a corporate attorney primarily in the technology and telecommunications industry. Prior to joining ICCR, Anita was an Associate General Counsel at IBM focused on global regulatory compliance including anti-bribery and corruption work and has worked in global roles at Dell Computers and British Telecommunications. She has worked internationally including in South East Asia.

About Shin:
Shin Imai is currently a professor emeritus at Osgoode Hall Law School. He has worked and published extensively in the areas of Indigenous rights, immigration law, clinical legal education and conflicts between Indigenous communities and Canadian mining companies.

Prior to his appointment to the law school, he worked at Keewaytinok Native Legal Services in Moosonee, started his own practice with a focus on immigration and human rights law and developed Alternative Dispute Resolution programs and justice projects in Indigenous communities at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.

Professor Imai serves as a director of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project ( a volunteer legal clinic that cultivates expertise in supporting Indigenous communities in the Americas and communities in Africa. He holds a BA from Yale, an LLB from the University of Toronto and an LLM from Osgoode Hall Law School.

About Mónica:
Mónica Ospina is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability expert with recognized experience in the design and implementation of CSR strategies that support operational productivity while building trusting relationships with communities impacted by mineral exploration and mining operations.

As an author, Mónica created the Local Community Procurement Program (LCPP), a sustainable supply chain model, awarded by the IFC-World Bank in 2012. She has also contributed to the IFC-World Bank’s Guide for the Early Stakeholder Engagement (published in 2015) and participated in discussion groups for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the RIO + 20 World Convention on Sustainable Development in 2012. In 2020, she was awarded as Distinguished Lecturer by CIM (Canadian Institute of Mining).

Mónica holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Universidad del Rosario, Colombia, Master’s Degree in Diplomatic Studies from the University of Westminster, UK, and has completed postgraduate programs in Sustainability Management from Harvard University and in International Business Strategy, from the London School of Economics.

By |April 9th, 2022|Current Events, News Releases|

CLAIHR Open Meeting

Saturday, March 5, 2022   |  2:00 – 3:30 pm EST

CLAIHR invites you to an online gathering of human rights advocates to learn about the organization, share your view on the issues and projects it should work on, and help it set its priorities for the upcoming year.

Who? members, volunteers, students, and Canadian human rights advocates

When?     Saturday, March 5, 2022 from 2 to 3:30 pm EST


  • Learn who we are, what we do, and projects that we will be working on this year;
  • Share your perspective on what is going on in Canada and any ideas you have for projects for CLAIHR to take on;
  • Meet members of the human rights community and learn from peers;
  • Discover and join projects that interest you; and
  • Help CLAIHR set its human rights priorities, identify new projects, and develop new ways to support its members.

Language?     Presentations will be in English, but all attendees are welcome to participate in French or English.


Can’t make it but still interested?

Send an email to with your perspective on what is going on in Canada and any ideas that you have on projects and initiatives for us to take on 

And join CLAIHR

By |February 20th, 2022|Current Events, News Releases|

The Fourth Pillar: Community Principles for Business and Human Rights

12-2pm EST, Friday, December 10, 2021

International Human Rights Day 2021

To register, click here

By |November 29th, 2021|News Releases, Past Events|

Canada Behind Bars: A Conversation on Immigration Detention

Thursday, November 18, 2021  |  12:00 – 1:30 pm EST

Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR) is pleased to partner with the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) to present our second and final panel on dignity behind bars:

Canada Behind Bars: A Conversation on Immigration Detention

Canada incarcerates thousands of people, including those fleeing persecution and seeking protection, on immigration-related grounds every year in often abusive conditions. A recent report from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documents how people in immigration detention are regularly handcuffed, shackled, and held with little-to-no contact with the outside world. Those with mental health conditions experience discrimination throughout the process. With no set release date, they can be held for months or years. The Canada Border Services Agency remains the only major law enforcement agency in Canada without independent civilian oversight. Join us for this insightful conversation, moderated by Samer Muscati, about what is happening in Canada and how we can collectively push for an end to these abusive practices with Hanna GrosMolly JoeckJustin Mohammed and João Velloso.

Thursday, November 18 2021

12 p.m.


Event in English. | Free and open to all.

RSVP required to receive the link.

This event is part of a diverse and rich programme developed to highlight the 40th Anniversary of HRREC!


By |November 8th, 2021|News Releases, Past Events|

Dignity Behind Bars: The Impact of Prisons on Mental Health

Wednesday, October 27, 2021  |  12:00 – 1:30 pm EDT

Please join Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR) and the Law Union of Ontario (LUO) for a panel on the mental health impacts of prison and particularly solitary confinement. The discussion will be moderated by Zoë Paliare, creator and host of The Field podcast, who will be speaking with Mark Iyengar, associate at Peck and Company, and Vicki Prais, human rights consultant and lawyer.

This program is eligible for up to 1.5 substantive hours of Continuing Professional Development with the Law Society of Ontario.

To join the panel, please click the link at the appropriate time:

Meeting ID: 825 5782 0749

Passcode: 450507

One tap mobile

+13462487799,,82557820749#,,,,*450507# US (Houston)

+16465588656,,82557820749#,,,,*450507# US (New York)

Dial by your location

        +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)

        +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)

        +1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)

        +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)

        +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)

        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)

Meeting ID: 825 5782 0749

Passcode: 450507

Find your local number:

About Zoë:

Zoë Paliare is the creator and host of The Field podcast, which shares the stories of formerly incarcerated people with the goal of inspiring a future where they are seen for their humanity, not judged for their past. Zoë is also a transformational coach, entrepreneur, former litigator, learning & development professional, traveller, foodie, lifelong learner, mentor, and speaker. She also serves as the Director of Equity & Associate Performance at Cassels. In this role, Zoë is responsible for supporting the Cassels’ work allocation program, leadership development initiative, and the firm’s mentorship program, as well as coaching associates to reach their career goals. She is also a part of Cassels’ EDI team, advancing the firm’s inclusion and diversity efforts and related initiatives and events.

About Mark:

Mark Iyengar is an associate at Peck and Company and CLAIHR is lucky to have him as our pro bono counsel. He practices criminal, quasi-criminal, and administrative law. He joined Peck and Company in 2020, after serving as a judicial law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. Before clerking, Mark articled in criminal and extradition law with the federal government. Mark sits on the board of directors of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers in British Columbia, serving as the chair of the advocacy committee.

About Vicki:
Vicki is an international human rights lawyer and academic, an engaging voice who speaks and writes in an accessible and eloquent manner including through hosting a podcast series, “The Passion Factor: Pursuing a Career in Human Rights.” As an independent human rights consultant, she exhibits expertise in prisoners’ rights, prison reform, dignity behind bars, and torture prevention. This year, she published an article in the Journal of Human Rights Practice, entitled “The Implementation in Canada of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: A Practitioner’s Perspective.”

By |October 21st, 2021|News Releases, Past Events|

From the Field: Building a Career in Human Rights With Vicki Prais

Friday, September 17th at 12:00 pm (noon) EDT (presentation with Q&A to follow) 

The Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR) Board is pleased to offer a back to school event open to all students and recent graduates from Canadian University Chapters of CLAIHR. As we transition back into our academic and working lives we are provided with an opportunity to contemplate and rethink what direction we want to take our careers. We hope you will join us for an inspiring conversation with our guest Vicki Prais who has 25 years’ experience as a human rights practitioner, to explore the many ways you can apply a passion for human rights to the work that you do.

This event is free of charge.

Special thanks to the Law Union of Ontario for their support.

Please register here:

About Vicki Prais:

Vicki is an international human rights lawyer and academic, an engaging voice who speaks and writes in an accessible and eloquent manner including through hosting a podcast series, “The Passion Factor: Get Soaked in the Human Rights World”. As an independent human rights consultant she exhibits expertise in prisoners’ rights, prison reform, dignity behind bars and torture prevetntion. 

Find her here:

More about CLAIHR:

By |September 9th, 2021|News Releases, Past Events|

Canada Day Statement

July 1, 2021

This Canada Day, CLAIHR believes there is no better opportunity to stand firmly in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and reflect upon the hundreds of Indigenous children whose remains have been found buried on the grounds of several former residential schools across Canada in the past few weeks. CLAIHR is deeply saddened at the deaths of these children, and the thousands of other Indigenous children who never made it home from residential schools.

CLAIHR also recognizes that these tragic deaths occurred as a result of a widespread and systematic racist government policy. Residential schools were part of Canada’s colonial strategy to eradicate Indigenous culture, language, community and spirit. CLAIHR believes that there is strong evidence to suggest that they constituted, at least, crimes against humanity and cultural genocide. They certainly rank among the gravest mass atrocities ever to be committed on this continent. These human rights violations are not just part of Canada’s history, but are firmly rooted in the present. The last residential school in Canada only closed in 1996, and the pain, suffering and intergenerational harm and trauma of residential schools continues to reverberate today.

CLAIHR urges the government of Canada and the churches involved to work with Aboriginal communities to fully implement all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (“TRC”) Calls to Action, particularly 71 to 76, which deal with missing children, unmarked graves and residential school cemeteries. As the TRC itself noted, this work is far from complete. Many relevant documents and records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities have not been shared or reviewed. Ongoing work is required to identify, document, maintain, commemorate and protect residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. Thus far, graves have only been discovered at a few of the dozens of residential schools that were operated across Canada.

This is, however, only the beginning. Tangible policy change is also required to remedy the decades of violence that Canada has inflicted on Indigenous peoples through human rights abuses such as the residential schools program. For example, Canada should immediately discontinue its litigation against Indigenous children who were removed from their homes, including many survivors of residential schools, in two cases being appealed from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). The government must also resolve all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves. In these and other respects, CLAIHR is committed to supporting Indigenous communities, where useful, in their efforts to hold the Canadian government to its obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as under the various international treaties it has concluded directly with First Nations across the country.

To learn more, see the resources provided by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation ( and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada ( The National Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for survivors and family: 1-866-925-4419.

This Canada Day, CLAIHR calls on all Canadians to do their part to address the human rights violations committed against Canada’s First Peoples.

By |July 1st, 2021|Uncategorized|

CLAIHR Letter to PM Trudeau: Support the waiver on IP rights on COVID vaccines

While developed nations gradually bring the COVID-19 crisis under control through vaccinations, it continues to take a destructive toll on the Global South. Of the one billion COVID-19 vaccines administered globally, only 0.2% were administered to low-income countries. This is a product of global inequity and it can be addressed through decisive action. CLAIHR wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau and Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, calling on Canada to take a stand at the World Trade Organization in support of developing nations’ right to produce affordable generic COVID-19 vaccines. The intellectual property rights protected by the WTO provide pharmaceutical companies with a monopoly over the production of vaccines and medical supplies, which restricts access to life-saving medications for billions across the globe. While many nations have spoken out against these restrictive trade rules in the context of a global pandemic, Canada’s government has offered only non-committal generalities with no firm commitments. A global pandemic is not the time for token statements. CLAIHR is calling on Canada to take a stand to protect the right to human health, which is protected in international law. Read CLAIHR’s letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Karina Gould, calling on the Canadian government to support a petition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property rights and patent laws on all COVID-19 vaccines and treatments until global herd immunity is achieved.
By |June 2nd, 2021|Uncategorized|


Could you patent the sun? – Polio vaccine inventor, Jonas Saulk 

By Harmit Sarai and Karen Segal

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020, and a pandemic on March 11, 2020. At the time of writing, over 150 million people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19) and the global death toll has exceeded three million people. Over the last two months, the number of new COVID-19 cases globally has almost doubled, nearing the pandemic’s peak infection rate. As the infection rate began multiplying faster, the epicentre of the pandemic shifted to developing countries like Brazil, Mexico, and India—all three countries have surpassed the United Kingdom and Italy in numbers of confirmed fatalities from the virus.

With the dangerous spike in new cases and deaths and fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variants, vaccines offer the best chances of ending this pandemic. The slow vaccine rollout and the unequal distribution of vaccines are unnecessarily prolonging the global pandemic and plunging the world’s population deeper into poverty. Further, vaccine distribution is marked by dramatic inequality between the world’s wealthy nations and the developing nations. Of the one billion vaccine doses administered globally, only 0.2% were administered in low-income countries. To drive down infection rates and death rates and protect fundamental human rights, including the right to health, greater and more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is imperative.

The most significant barrier to equitable distribution of vaccines globally is lack of supply, with wealthy countries dominating access to the limited available doses. Only a handful of pharmaceutical companies have developed successful vaccines, and these companies are incapable of producing a sufficient supply of vaccines to meet the demand worldwide. Of the vaccines that have been produced, the majority of the doses have been delivered to wealthy countries—many of whom have outstanding orders for far more vaccine doses than their countries could possibly use. In contrast, many developing countries are struggling to secure access to any vaccine or are only able to secure contracts for inadequate amounts.

By September of last year, 51% of the doses to be produced had already been reserved for a handful of countries with a combined population that is only 13% of the global population. By the end of 2020, 96% of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had been bought by Western nations. By March 2021, Oxfam reports that rich countries were “vaccinating at a rate of one person per second,” while many poor countries will at best vaccinate only 20% of their population before the end of 2021. This problem is not limited to vaccines alone: a UN trade report indicates that middle-income and low-income countries have been priced out of access to COVID-19 related products, with “only a tiny fraction” of COVID-19 medical supplies reaching low-income countries. The same report describes the inequality in access to the vaccines as even more dire. 

Despite the current deficit in vaccine supply and the fact that there is untapped production capacity in developing nations, intellectual property laws continue to prevent developing countries from producing generic vaccines for their own populations. They remain dependent on the limited supply produced by big pharmaceutical companies, which is being accessed predominantly by wealthy nations—essentially, the world’s poor are at the end of the queue for access to this life-saving medication. This grim inequality is taking a severe toll on human life and human rights and casts into stark relief the inequality between wealthy Western nations and the Global South. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom states: “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure—and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” 

In an attempt to increase vaccine access among developing nations, on October 2nd, 2020, India and South Africa petitioned members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property rights and patent laws—as set forth in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement)—on all COVID-19 vaccines and treatments until herd immunity is achieved. This would increase access to vaccines, as pharmaceutical companies would be unable to enforce intellectual property rights, and consequently, low-income countries would be able to manufacture and administer generic COVID-19 vaccines, saving more lives.

India and South Africa argue that “an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires rapid access to affordable medical products, including diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as vaccines and medicines for the prevention and treatment of patients in dire need.” They argue that pharmaceutical companies must be compelled to share data and expertise on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments—that would otherwise be protected by intellectual property rights—with other vaccine manufacturers, particularly those in low-income and middle-income countries.  

Regrettably, however, many wealthy WTO member states—including Canada, the United States, and the UK—have opposed  this measure. Consequently, the WTO has not yet agreed to waive intellectual property rights enforcement for COVID-19 vaccine patents. Unsurprisingly, countries opposing the waiver are the home countries of the patent-holding companies, where hundreds of pharmaceutical lobbyists are also actively opposing the proposition

These countries should understand that supporting the TRIPS Agreement waiver does not mean that pharmaceutical companies will go unrewarded. It is projected that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will sell $15 billion worth of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. Instead of only making billion-dollar companies richer, we also need to be vaccinating billions of people in developing countries, just as is being done in the developed countries of the world. As highlighted by South Africa at the April 22, 2021 TRIPS Council meeting, “If the opposition is just to protect the few more billions these companies will make, then the opposition is self-defeating and short sighted.” It is worth noting further that Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, and Astra-Zeneca all received significant public funding for their research, causing advocates to argue that the results of this publicly funded research should also be publicly available.

Supporters of the proposal, including more than 100 countries in the developing world, argue that by issuing a waiver, the WTO would be enabling a rapid scale-up of vaccine production across the globe. Despite the tremendous success of the world’s wealthier countries in vaccinating their citizens, Oxfam reports that these “rich countries are siding with a handful of pharmaceutical corporations in protecting their monopolies against the needs of the majority of developing countries who are struggling to administer a single dose. It is unforgivable that while people are literally fighting for breath, rich country governments continue to block what could be a vital breakthrough in ending this pandemic for everyone in rich and poor countries alike.” Essentially, the purpose of this waiver is to prioritize saving human lives over protecting large corporate profit. Enforcing WTO intellectual property laws on pharmaceuticals and medical expertise during a global pandemic is a violation of human rights and is inimical to the global public interest. 

This proposal is not only about the supply but also about the affordability of the vaccines. As pointed out by a group of UN human rights experts, the rise in “supply and vaccine nationalism,” which has nations scrambling to secure the largest possible volumes of vaccines for themselves at the expense of poorer countries, will also exacerbate the poverty facing the Global South:

“Low and middle income countries will have to devote more resources for obtaining the various products, leading to more debt and further reducing fiscal space for measures and policies for acute needs on health, food and social security, all crucial elements to address the situation of their population.”

Because COVID-19 vaccines are currently the best way to prevent the disease and control the pandemic, availability and access to these vaccines are essential to the right to health of all people. The human right to health is recognized by multiple international instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which stipulates that all parties to the covenant “recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

The covenant goes on to state that the steps to be taken to achieve this right include those necessary for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemics…and other diseases” and “the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.” Everyone is entitled to “enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” toward attaining the highest standard of health, without discrimination. Access to pharmaceuticals in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic is fundamental to achieving the right of every human to the highest attainable standard of health. 

Together with the ICESCR, a variety of other international instruments clearly protect the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” The UDHR declares that human rights are universal and recognizes that all people have the right to medical care, a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, and the benefits of scientific advancement. Additionally, the 194 member states of the World Health Organization formally recognize that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being, without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

By opposing the motion to temporarily waive intellectual property rights and patent laws for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments,  wealthy Western nations have failed to take all possible measures for the prevention, treatment, and containment of the COVID-19 crisis, and consequently, are in breach of international human rights laws. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, and it calls for unprecedented action.  

While Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement grants governments the power to issue compulsory licences authorizing the national manufacturing of low-cost generic equivalents of patented medicines, these flexibilities for protecting public health are inadequate, given the urgency of the global pandemic. To issue compulsory licences, countries must follow a complex and time-consuming process. The rules permitting compulsory licensing apply only on a case-by-case and product-by-product basis, and unsurprisingly, this process is too limiting and slow for a worldwide crisis.

The TRIPS compulsory licensing regime also proved to be insufficient during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which saw developing nations grappling simultaneously with a deadly outbreak of HIV/AIDS and the enormous costs of accessing remarkably expensive patented antiretroviral medications. One of the issues that exacerbated the problem is that Article 31(f) of the TRIPS Agreement stipulates that a country utilizing a compulsory licence must manufacture the product locally for its domestic market. To take advantage of this clause, the country must already have sufficient manufacturing capacity, but it can be challenging for some developing countries to set up pharmaceutical factories to manufacture products without the support of the international community.

In such circumstances, having a global coordinating body that assists these countries in scaling up their production infrastructure to produce COVID-19 vaccines, for example, would be a worthwhile initiative. A coalition of UN human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, asserts that complying with their international human rights obligations requires states to ensure that technologies and intellectual property are widely shared to enable developing countries to scale up the development, manufacture, and distribution of vaccines. 

The HIV/AIDS epidemic also represented a clear example of the inequalities in access to health care between rich and poor countries. The Western world could afford antiretroviral medications to treat its populations, while essential drugs were priced beyond the reach of developing countries. Patent holders were granted exclusive rights to the manufacture of these medicines and proceeded to charge a premium significantly in excess of their marginal costs of production. By the time resource-poor regions were able to access the medicines, the death toll from the HIV/AIDS epidemic had exceeded 10 million in Africa alone. To avoid an exact repetition of history, today’s world leaders need to immediately address the problem faced by low-income countries regarding access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

When examined from the perspective of the right to health, the TRIPS Agreement waiver proposal induced by the COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally a human rights issue. The intellectual property rights protected by the WTO provide pharmaceutical companies with a monopoly over the production of vaccines and medical supplies, which restricts access to life-saving medications for billions across the globe. With the current pandemic, it is impossible to simultaneously enforce intellectual property rights and protect the human right to health. In these circumstances, COVID-19 vaccines should be affordable and accessible to all, without discrimination. 

In pursuit of this goal, more than 140 world leaders and experts have signed an open letter requesting all governments to support a people’s vaccine for COVID-19. The letter demands that all vaccines, treatments, and tests be patent-free, mass-produced, fairly distributed and made available to every individual, in all nations, free of charge. As Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, phrases it: “The COVID-19 vaccine must not belong to anyone and must be free for everyone. Diplomatic platitudes are not enough—we need legal guarantees, and we need them now.” The Canadian government should join other world leaders and health advocates to support a people’s vaccine and ensure that human lives are prioritized over the profits of big pharmaceutical corporations. The world’s wealthy nations should not forget that, as long as there is COVID-19 anywhere in the world, it remains a threat to everyone on the globe. 

Many medical experts argue that the fight against COVID-19 is a struggle to vaccinate as many people as possible before deadlier or vaccine-resistant variants emerge. According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom, “the more transmission, the more variants. And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines. We could all end up back at square one.” The world has witnessed the death toll inflicted by the existing variants, variants that slipped across our borders with ease. This means that a slow vaccine rollout significantly threatens to undermine all the progress that has been made in the fight against this virus and puts everyone—not just those in regions with lower vaccine access—at risk of prolonged suffering: business closures, isolation, separation from family, sickness, and death. It is difficult to imagine a more pressing time to prioritize the fight against a disease over corporate profits.

Intellectual property rights should never supersede the human right to health—a truth made even more glaring in the context of a pandemic costing millions of human lives. It is critical that governments, including Canada, and companies across the globe protect the right to health of every individual by sharing medical technologies, proprietary data, and expertise on COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies. A global pandemic demands that countries and companies work together to develop a pandemic response that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. Such an effort requires the sharing of the most advanced scientific knowledge to jointly mitigate the impact of the crisis and expedite access to vaccines and treatments.

By |May 3rd, 2021|Blog, Uncategorized|