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An HIV patient visits a rural health clinic in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda, with her caregiver on Aug. 2, 2008. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foudation)
An HIV patient visits a rural health clinic in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda, with her caregiver on Aug. 2, 2008. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foudation)

Generic-drug fight moves to Senate Add to ...

The clock is ticking on an NDP bill that aims to fix the process for sending cheap generic versions of brand-name drugs to poor countries to fight diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis.

It's proponents must now get it pushed through the Senate before an election that could be called in two weeks time. And they are calling on Canadians to join their cause.

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Bill C-393, which would reform the seven-year-old Access to Medicines Regime, was passed by the House of Commons on Wednesday night by a wide margin of 172 to 111. It had the support of NDP and Bloc MPs and all but two Liberals.

But just a handful of Conservatives vote in favour of the bill - none of them cabinet ministers. So it faces a tough fight in the Conservative-dominated Senate.

The legislation survived one prorogation of Parliament but will die if an election is called. That adds some urgency to the fight that has been waged groups like the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which have been promoting it at every turn - to the point of getting celebrities like the Somali-born musician K'Naan on board.

In an effort to convince senators that the bill is a good one - and that it should be whisked through the Red Chamber before a writ is dropped - they have set up a website called LetDemocracyWin.ca that urges Canadians to write to the Prime Minister and the senators to voice their support.

"A majority of our democratically-elected House of Commons has voted for it," the notice on the website says. "It has the support of a wide range of medical and legal experts as well as faith leaders and humanitarian activists. It also has the support of millions of Canadians including me. Our unelected Senate must not be allowed to prevent this bill from becoming law."

The regime, as it stands, is so unworkable that, in the seven years of its existence, it has been used to send just two batches of a single generic drug to one country.

But opponents of the measure argue that is violates intellectual property rights and that it would ultimately have little effect.

It would be unusual for the Senate to expedite private-member's legislation, especially a bill that does not have the support of the government. And the Senate has shown with previous bills that it is not averse to overruling the will of the elected House.

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