Canada’s Standing Committee on Health (HESA): Report 13
Canada’s Standing Committee on Health (HESA) is a tool of the Canadian parliamentary system and is intended to help guide Canada’s position on matters of health policy As such, it is a significant and influential voice on health priorities in Canada. For the 41st Parliament (the current Parliament of Canada), the Chair of the Committee is Huron-Bruce MP, Mr. Ben Lobb. According to the Canadian government website, the HESA committee is
empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management, and operation of Health Canada. This includes its responsibilities for the operations of the internal body called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). The Committee is also responsible for the oversight of four agencies that report to Parliament through the Minister of Health:
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR);
- Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB);
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA); and
- Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
The mandate of the Standing Committee on Health also includes reviewing and reporting on matters referred to it by Orders of Reference from the House of Commons relating to Health Canada and its associated agencies such as health-related bills, the budgetary estimates of Health Canada and its associated agencies, study of reports tabled in Parliament that relate to health, and examination of the qualifications and competences of Order in Council appointees.
The Standing Committee on Health may also study matters the Committee itself chooses to examine. It holds public meetings and considers evidence from witnesses. At the end of a study, the Committee usually reports on its findings and makes recommendations. The Committee may request a Government response within 120 days of the tabling of the report.
Detailed information on the role and powers of House of Commons committees can be found in the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure and in Chapter XIII of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
It is ironic and unfortunate that HESA – a committee established to report and inform health policy matters – has issued a report (Report 13) entitled Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation and the Health of Canadians. This is, however, what has occurred effective June, 2015. CFIC is concerned with the contents of the report and the process which supports the generation of this report. We are particularly concerned that a report of this nature may influence Canadian health policy – a potentially problematic move away from proven science-based medicine that Canadians need.
CFI Canada Does Not Support HESA Report 13
CFI Canada has sent a letter to HESA Chair, the Honourable Ben Lobb regarding our concerns with Report 13. We excerpt that letter here for our members’ reference:
Centre For Inquiry Canada is a registered Canadian charity with the mandate to provide education and training to the public in the application of skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic inquiry through conferences, symposia, lectures, published works and the maintenance of a library. One of our central priorities is to educate Canadians about the importance of science-based medicine to our health system – and that unproven health claims and practices are dangerous and costly for our publicly-funded system.
We are deeply concerned about the process by which a report regarding Wifi and Cellphone radiation ( Report 13 – Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation and the health of Canadians) was prepared and that its recommendations, not based on evidentiary science, will mislead the public and cause unnecessary fear. The introduction states that the study was driven by the concerns of witnesses who attended hearings but does not acknowledge that the hearings were strategically packed by “anti-WiFi” activists and MPs sympathetic to their lobby efforts. Unfortunately it appears that committee members were swayed more by voices of fear and misunderstanding than by those of reason and science.
The report refers to a few low-quality studies that purport to show a link between cancer, autism or other ailments and cell phones or UHF radiation but omits the thousands of high-quality studies that conclude the opposite.
In fact, brain cancer incidence in the US has been steadily decreasing since 1992, despite the steep rise in cell phone use (http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/brain.html). Dozens of expert panels from virtually every industrialized country have reviewed this literature and have reached the same conclusion (http://www.emfandhealth.com/Science%20Sources.html).
It is unfortunate that the report relies heavily on quotes from Dr. Magda Havas, an activist for people who claim to have electrohypersensitivity (EHS). There is a rich literature showing that EHS is the result of the nocebo effect, and has no relation to actual EMF. In dozens of sham studies “sufferers” are unable to tell the difference between real and fake devices, for example, and develop symptoms whenever they believe they are “exposed”, whether they are or not. Since researchers have not yet found any subjects who can detect or respond to EMF, we can conclude that there is no such condition, yet Dr. Havas claims otherwise. Her research on EHS has been highly criticized and she should not be considered as expert testimony by the committee (http://www.skepticnorth.com/2010/11/magdahavas-new-ehs-study-has-serious-flaws/). The links on Dr. Havas’ website to several companies selling products that profit from the public’s fear of EMF are red flags.
The anecdotes from individuals believing they suffer from EHS carry no scientific weight, yet the report includes them as if they did. It goes further by recommending that EHS be recognized as a functional disability, which would be utterly ridiculous. The nuisance and financial costs for the government and business to be required to accommodate such sufferers in the work place would be unbearable. Instead of reviewing the published literature, the report calls for EHS questions to be included in a National Health Survey. We might as well include questions about Bigfoot or ghosts.
There is no need to call for more research because there is already a rich literature indicating that EHS does not exist. The Canadian Medical Association and other health organizations have already considered the lack of evidence for EHS. We do not need recommendations to change policy based on anecdotal evidence.
Canadians require health policy based on scientifically valid evidence and verifiable facts – not the lobbying efforts of individuals who refuse to acknowledge repeatable and valid science.
It is unfortunate that the voices of Prof. Tarzwell, Bernard Lord and Tom Whitney were not given more weight.
As an educational charity with a mandate to provide education and training to the public in the application of skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic inquiry through conferences, symposia, lectures, published works and the maintenance of a library, CFIC encourages a skeptical and rational review of the report and the process supporting its creation. As a program to promote scientific skepticism, CFIC has launched “Science Chek” to encourage Canadians to use a skeptical approach when faced with extraordinary claims.
From time to time, people in the community – whether driven by fear, competitive business models, or other factors – make health claims or statements that do not have scientific evidence backing them. CFI Canada and the scientific skeptic community has an important role to play in questioning not only the claims themselves but also the processes which encourage further incursion of pseudoscience into the healthcare system.
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