Council of Canadians Calls for TRIPS Waiver

Editor’s Note: This open letter from the Cape Breton West Chapter of the Council of Canadians to the prime minister is dated 11 May 2021.


Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

We are writing to implore the Government of Canada to ask the World Trade Organization (WTO) to hold an emergency meeting to deal with the proposal to temporarily waive certain obligations under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until the COVID-19 emergency is over. We also ask that Canada support that proposal.

The passage of this waiver would mean WTO member states 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. The next regular WTO TRIPS Council meeting is scheduled for June 8-9. The world, and especially India, cannot wait that long for a patent waiver proposal to be passed.

Bottles of COVID-19 vaccine

In early March of this year some 30 Canadian organizations signed a letter calling on your government to support the waiver proposal (which was by then being co-sponsored by 57 WTO members) at the March 10th WTO TRIPS Council meeting. The Chair of the TRIPS Council, Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter (South Africa) opened that day’s deliberations on the waiver with the following warning: “The world is in desperate need of solutions. It cannot be business as usual. People are dying as we speak.” Very disappointingly, Canada did not support the waiver proposal.

The director-general of the World Health Organization is calling on member states, including Canada, to support the waiver. As it stands now, vaccine technology and knowledge are being treated as private property by pharmaceutical corporations, despite much of this research being paid for by over $100 billion of taxpayers’ money. With communities across the world facing catastrophic scenarios such as India’s, it’s more than business as usual for pharmaceutical corporations. With their WTO-protected exclusive rights and monopolies, pharmaceutical companies are charging much higher prices and eliminating the generic competition demonstrated time and again as key to bringing and keeping prices down for low and middle-income countries.

In the context of the ongoing public health emergency, the result is that rich countries such as Canada are securing private contracts with vaccine makers while many developing countries haven’t seen any vaccine doses at all. While Canada has ordered enough doses of the multiple available vaccines to inoculate its population many times over, some estimates say that vaccines will not become available to a fifth of the world until 2022 and beyond. Passing this temporary waiver proposal at the WTO will help break down barriers to scaling up the manufacture and supply of lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools across the world. Notably, a successful waiver could also serve to free up several members of Canada’s small-to-medium-sized Bio Pharma firms to begin producing tens of millions of doses at an affordable cost and make them destined for poorer nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe global health and economic crisis in generations. In Canada and around the world the virus has disproportionately impacted women, migrant and lower-wage workers, racialized and other marginalized groups. Millions of lives have already been lost to this virus. Canada must be part of the global effort to save lives — not present obstacles. We call on the Canadian government to immediately request an emergency meeting of the WTO TRIPS Council, and for Canada to vote in favor of the waiver at that meeting.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Weinstein and Paul Strome
on behalf of the Cape Breton West Chapter of the Council of Canadians


The Honourable Mary Ng, P.C., M.P. Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade

Honourable Marc Garneau, P.C., C.C., C.D., M.P. Minister of Foreign Affairs

MP Sean Fraser

MP Lenore Zann

MP Mike Kelloway