Byline: DANYLO HAWALESHKA
In the pivotal courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise shouts, "I want the truth!" at Jack Nicholson, whose truculent character is testifying. "You can't handle the truth!" Nicholson famously retorts. Today, in a real-life courtroom drama, CanWest MediaWorks Inc. has, in a manner, assumed Cruise's role, with a somewhat less altruistic goal in mind than simple verity.
In a civil lawsuit now before Ontario's Superior Court of Justice, CanWest contends Canadians are being denied important truths about prescription medications because of strict limits on drug advertising. Canada's largest media company claims the regulations thwart its constitutional right to freedom of expression.
CanWest's suit against the attorney general of Canada casts the country's Food and Drugs Act as the villain. The act forbids direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) that ties a prescription drug to a treatment, cure or disease. (It is illegal for CanWest to, for instance, run an ad to promote Viagra for impotence, but quite legal to separately publicize the brand, or the condition; there are no such restrictions on ads that target physicians exclusively in, say, trade journals.) In a sworn statement, Arturo Duran, a CanWest MediaWorks president, claims permitting DTCA in Canada would educate the public about drug risks and benefits. "There is no evidence to justify a ban on truthful advertising of prescription drugs," Duran says.