Why Not Go All the Way on Reimportation of Drugs?

The debate over allowing Americans to import drugs from Canada — where they are generally cheaper — is fascinating if only to watch free trade Republicans come out in favor of protectionism and protectionist Democrats suddenly find the free trade religion.

I agree with those who believe Americans should be able to buy imported drugs from practically anywhere. If you can get your medication in Mexico or Canada cheaper than in the United States, go for it.

The main argument against this is that drug companies in Canada, for example, are forced to charge lower prices by the government there. Without higher drug prices in the United States, there won’t be enough money for future research and development.

This argument has some appeal, but frankly this is a problem the drug companies themselves are going to solve. Look, the basic problem is that drugs in Canada are far too cheap. Rather than challenge Canada’s ridiculous formulary pricing, drug companies just cave and pass on the costs of doing so to Americans. Screw that. Hopefully, allowing importation of prescription drugs will give the drug companies some backbone in such countries.

The other argument against reimportation of prescription drugs is, in my opinion, a red herring — that such drugs may be unsafe by American standards. Certainly those who favor reimportation dismiss such arguments as simply industry-serving nonsense.

But why not go all the way with this? Why not let American firms adopt manufacturing standards that are acceptable in Canada (or Mexico for that matter)? Why not let Americans import drugs from Canada (or other countries) that have yet to be approved by the FDA?

If it’s good enough for Canadians, it’s good enough for Americans, right?

Canadians Use Terrorism as a Cover for Absurd Secrecy as Well

Apparently American law enforcement isn’t the only ones using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to keep secret things that should be routinely be made public. According to this Ottawa Citizen story, an Ottawa-based terrorist task force invoked the specter of terrorism to keep secret how much it spent procuring a coffee maker, silverware and a thermostat.

The task force said it would not respond to a request for the information under Canadian-style freedom of information laws on the grounds that to do so would be “injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen story,

The release of the records on the JTF2 contracts came only after a lengthy bureaucratic battle. At first, the unit claimed that the records could not easily be found and it would take 54 hours to search for the documents at a cost of $540 to the Citizen. Those fees were eventually dropped after the newspaper pointed out that most of the records were contained in an easily-accessible computer printout. Presumably, Al Qaeda has a plot to hijack silverware in Canada and use it for some nefarious purpose.


Coffee: The latest threat to security. David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen, September 28, 2003.

Canadian Supreme Court Strengthens Divorce Agreements

In a 7-2 ruling the Canadian Supreme Court reversed several lower court rulings in saying that divorce agreements should be respected unless truly unforeseen circumstances occur that require revisiting them.

The case before the Court involved Linda Miglin who succeeded in having lower courts revise a divorce agreement she had reached with her husband in 1994. The Miglins owned a successful lodge in which they had capital of about $250,000. The divorce agreement called for Eric Miglin to pay his wife $60,000/year in child support, employ her for 5 years at $15,000/year as a consultant for the lodge, and swap her interest in the lodge for the family home (which was worth roughly $250,000).

Eric Miglin fulfilled his obligations under the divorce agreement, but years later, apparently having difficulty finding a job, Linda Miglin asked a court to grant her $4,400 a month in spousal support even though the divorce agreement between the couple specifically ruled out any future spousal support.

Linda Miglin argued that she didn’t realize what she was signing away with the divorce agreement, a contention that the Supreme Court didn’t lend credence given that both parties were represented by lawyers whose job it was to defend their interests.

Lower courts ruled that since Linda Miglin’s circumstances had materially changed, that she was entitled to seek a change in the divorce agreement. The majority opinion of the Canadian Supreme Court disagreed with this, noting that it was inevitable that some unforeseeable material changes would inevitably take place after any divorce agreement,

Some degree of change in the circumstances of the parties is always foreseeable, as agreements are prospective of in nature. Parties are presumed to be aware that health, job markets, parental responsibilities, housing markets and values of assets are all subject to change.

The Supreme Court ruling essentially restored the older standard that the material change in question must have been unforseen but materially connected with the marriage.


Top court toughens divorce deal rules. Kirk Makin, Global and Mail, April 17, 2003.

Till Death Do Us Part: The Miglin Decision. Spring 2001.

Hey guys, let death do you part. Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail, May 3, 2001.

A contract is a contract — even in family law. Judith C. Sidlofsky Stoffman, GuelphMercury.Com, April 28, 2003.

Goofy Albertan Separatists

Jim Roepcke links to this story about a goofy Albertan separatist group. What would Albertans do once they separate from Canada,

“One of the things that was suggested would be a couple of nuclear submarines moving around the world,” Bruce Hutton told a news conference Tuesday. “That makes us a formidable power. With the amount of money we’ve sent to Ottawa in the last six years, we could have nuclear submarines.”

My idea is that instead they could use the money to built a secret undersea city from which to plot Alberta’s takeover of the world. That would make about as much sense.

The Perils of Cross-Cultural Statistics

In an excellent article about the UK’s failed experiment in gun control, Janet Malcolm offer an amazing example of the perils of using statistics as-is from different countries. As we all know, the United States has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The U.S. homicide rate, for example, is almost three time as high as that of Great Britain. Sort of. . . Well, maybe not …

The murder rates of the U.S. and U.K. are also affected by differences in the way each counts homicides. The FBI asks police to list every homicide as murder, even if the case isnÂ’t subsequently prosecuted or proceeds on a lesser charge, making the U.S. numbers as high as possible. By contrast, the English police “massage down” the homicide statistics, tracking each case through the courts and removing it if it is reduced to a lesser charge or determined to be an accident or self-defense, making the English numbers as low as possible.

The same oddity occurs with infant mortality. You’d think that establishing when a person is born and when they die would be fairly straightforward, but in fact the United States records infant mortality statistics in a way that is out of step with the rest of the world and which artificially inflates the U.S. infant mortality rate (the short version is that in the U.S. many premature infants who die shortly after birth are counted in birth and death statistics, whereas in most of the world they are not considered live births).

Or take Reporters Without Borders report which ranks freedom of speech and puts Canada at 5th in the world while the U.S. comes in at 17. The U.S. comes in so low because of the relatively large number (for a Western nation) of reporters who are jailed, almost always because they refuse to reveal a source.

But this is largely an artifact of the United States’ peculiar prior restraint doctrine. In the United States it is almost impossible to for the government to prevent publication of anything in a newspaper. The government can go in later and subpoena a reporter or a person can sue for libel, but the odds of getting a court to enjoin publication is very close to zero except for a few extreme national security issues.

In many Western countries, there is no such limit and there are strict laws that prevent newspapers and broadcast outlets from reporting on certain topics. For example, most of the cases where reporters are jailed for not revealing sources are criminal cases. Most other Western countries, including Canada, place much stricter limits on what can be reported in coverage of criminal cases and don’t run into these sorts of problems.


Gun ControlÂ’s Twisted Outcome
Restricting firearms has helped make England more crime-ridden than the U.S.
Joyce Lee Malcolm, Reason, November 2002.

Reporters Without Borders is publishing the first worldwide press freedom index. Reporters Without Borders, October 2002.

Misleading WHO Study on Violence

Last week many news outlets reported on a study by the World Health Organization that blondes were becoming extinct — that turned out to be a hoax. No such study existed. But now WHO seems to be using a genuine report to distort the rate of homicides by intimate partners.

The New York Times summarizes the WHO report on intimate murder this way,

The study found that violence against women by their male partners occurs in all countries, regardless of economic class and religion. Data from Australia, the United States, Canada, Israel and South Africa show that 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

But the situation is not the same for male murder victims. In the United States, for instance, only 4 percent of men murdered from 1976 to 1996 were killed by their wives, ex-wives or girlfriends.

The problem with this statistic is that it makes it appear that the odds of a man being murdered by a girlfriend, wife or ex-wife is far lower than the risk that a woman will be killed by a boyfriend, husband or ex-husband.

But in the United States, the actual annual figures break out to something like 1,300 women killed by male intimates compared to about 600 men killed by female intimates. In most years, about 1/3rd of all murders by intimate partners are committed by women.

But at the same time, it is correct that only 4 percent of men who are murdered are killed by women they have an intimate relationship with. But this is because men are so much more likely to be murdered than are women. As WHO notes, men constitute approximately 3/4 of all homicide victims (in the United States, about 80 percent of murder victims are men).

Another major problem with WHO’s study on violence is that it lumps in suicide as an act of violence. Yes suicide is a problem and needs to be addressed, but somebody who wants to kill himself is not the same sort of social problem as somebody who wants to kill other people. Out of the 1.6 million victims of violence annually that WHO cites, well over 1 million of those deaths are the result of suicides.

Finally, WHO has lowballed the number of people who died as a result of violence at only 191 million in the 20th century. The complete report isn’t available online, but that figure is way too small unless WHO is playing with politics with who counts as a victim of violence.


First ever Global Report on Violence and Health released. World Health Organization, Press Release, October 3, 2002.

War, Murder and Suicide: A Year’s Toll Is 1.6 Million
. Sheryl Gay Stroberg, New York Times, October 3, 2003.