BC needs to protect health freedom

– by Naida Geisler –

In 1984, like-minded Canadians came together and incorporated Health Action Network Society, widely known as HANS. For 36 years, HANS has educated and advocated for holistic, integrative and complementary health practitioners, businesses, and patients.

On December 18, 2019 HANS received a letter from the BC’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing stating, “The Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch have concluded, through consultation with the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health Officer, that this content did not conform to the Ministry of Health’s Strategic Framework for Immunization in B.C.” Nine pieces of vaccine safety information HANS made available to the public over a 10-year period were cited. Puzzling, considering the referenced Strategic Framework has been in place since 2007. HANS has received the grant every year since that framework was implemented and has, as a condition of the funding, disclosed all programming activities annually. Somehow HANS’s activities were not considered nonconforming until 2019.

To be clear, HANS is not an anti-vaccine organization. Simply discussing safety components of an issue, be it dentistry or surgery does not make you “anti” anything. The term “anti-vaccine” or “anti-vaxx” is used to shut down the conversation before it begins.

The BC Gaming audit of HANS covered a four-year time period: 2015 – 2019. Yet in order to build a case against HANS, the auditors had to go back 10 years to produce nine instances of references to vaccines or immunization. They focused on a small part of our programming rather than view our work from a holistic perspective that recognizes our 36 years of public encouragement of health self-responsibility and individual well-being – all of which deserves government support, if only for health care cost savings. Their letter confirmed that HANS was no longer eligible for the BC Gaming Grant which represents 40 percent of annual funding.

Current Canadian Governments and Health Freedom

On a national level, most of the holistic and complementary health community is aware that Health Canada is quietly, slowly implementing a new Natural Health Product framework that threatens the existence of small manufacturers, practitioners who compound as part of their practice, and those who rely on traditional claims to secure their Natural Product Number. The initiative is a slow burn we are not supposed to notice, akin to the proverbial frog in a pot of warming water.

What’s happening in B.C. is somewhat different. HANS has historically enjoyed an open, communicative dialogue with the provincial governments. Several correspondences between HANS and various provincial politicians who served throughout the 2000s including Gordon Campbell, Mike Harcourt, and others of varying party affiliations, provided supportive, solution-driven, collaborative endorsements of HANS. What’s changed? It’s certainly not Canadian nor British Columbian demand for therapies or products. In 2017, Canadians spent $6.5 billion on providers of holistic and complementary therapies. Approximately 65 percent of British Columbians use holistic and complementary therapies. British Columbians are the most health-progressive Canadians, but somehow the provincial government is not respecting these values.

The BC Ministry of Health and the CBC

From April 16, 2018 to July 15, 2019, one CBC British Columbia reporter published at least 21 stories that eroded public confidence in “alternative” health practices. The stories were unethically alarmist and misleading, providing dramatic headlines and incomplete facts. Through our publicly funded national broadcaster, the reporter bullied chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, HANS, and federally elected officials. Upon reviewing her stories, I can safely say that never once, with the exception of the federally elected officials, were the subjects of the attacks given the opportunity to defend themselves with more than a mere perfunctory statement.

A strong bias against alternative health practices and products has recently emerged, particularly by the CBC. To be clear, the CBC stories did not indicate a single injury or fatality at the hands of a practitioner or product. Because none exists.

Did this negative media create public pressure that the Ministry of Health used as an opportunity to diminish health freedom in British Columbia? Or did the ministry use the media to manipulate the public into an anti-alternative health bias? Health freedom and respect for independent health and wellness choices are no longer encouraged by these institutions. They are barely tolerated.

Ours is a cautionary tale. We, here in Canada, often take our freedoms for granted. If health freedom is important to you, pay careful attention to how your government, and the media, responds to your demand for more freedom of choice in your health care.

Naida Geisler is the General Manager of the Health Action Network Society (HANS). Since 1984, HANS has been Canada’s reliable source of unbiased, evidence-based information on the issues that impact your health and your right to access the practices and products of your choice. If health freedom is important to you, please join HANS by visiting www.hans.org.

photo by Zaid Patel, Unsplash

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