A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer/BioNTEch coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine at The Michener Institute, in Toronto, Ontario on December 14, 2020. - Ontario, Canada's most populous province and one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, had 1,940 new cases and 23 deaths on Monday. The province is expected to give its next doses to nursing home workers as a priority, according to media reports. (Photo by CARLOS OSORIO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CARLOS OSORIO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Civil society groups urge Canada to support global access to COVID-19 vaccine at WTO

OTTAWA – As governments around the world prepare for World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings on intellectual property rights March 10-11, civil society groups are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support a landmark waiver that would help boost global access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and PPE.

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, more than 30 organizations called on Trudeau to support a proposed temporary waiver of certain obligations under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  

The waiver – jointly proposed by India and South Africa – would mean WTO members would not have to grant or enforce patents and other intellectual property rights covering COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and other technologies such as masks and ventilators.

While the Canadian government has not rejected this proposal, importantly, it also has not agreed to it. This puts Canada in line with Australia, Brazil, the EU, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. in obstructing the waiver.

“After all of Canada’s talk about the need for a global effort to fight COVID, the failure to sign on to the WTO waiver is disappointing to say the least. The waiver can speed up the COVID response, making it more accessible and affordable for all. Importantly, it will ensure public health and people’s lives are being prioritized over the profits of pharmaceutical corporations,” says Jesse Whattam, co-ordinator of the Trade Justice Network.

“Canada’s own COVID-19 legislation in 2020 authorized the temporary suspension of patents and trade secrets to protect public health. The TRIPS waiver would guarantee the same kind of flexibility to all countries, especially those who cannot affordably manufacture or import therapeutic products, PPE and vaccines,” says Stuart Trew, senior researcher and director of the Trade and Investment Research Project at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“While provinces across Canada are rolling out their vaccination plans, a fifth of the world’s population is not expected to receive doses until 2022. Free and equal access to vaccine is a human rights priority and no-one should be denied access to a vaccine because of their economic status or the country they live in. Canada has a responsibility to be part of the global solution and lead wealthier countries in endorsing this waiver,” says Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

Please see the attached for a copy of the letter, including a full list of signatories.

Media contacts:

Lucy Scholey, Media Relations Officer, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142, lscholey@amnesty.ca

Alyssa O’Dell, Media and Public Relations Officer, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 343-998-7575, alyssa@policyalternatives.ca

Jesse Whattam, coordinator, Trade Justice Network, tradejusticenetwork@gmail.com