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Ottawa Fertility Law - Great Expectations

Assisted Human Reproduction Agency

When the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies released its report in 1993, it called for the establishment of a federal regulatory agency. The idea was that the agency would have specialized jurisdiction to develop, implement, and enforce regulation of medical practices and clinics (similar, for example to the CRTC having specialized jurisdiction in the field of radio/television broadcasting).

The Agency was established in 2006, then, in 2010, cracks appeared when three board members very publicly resigned over allegations of mismanagement, especially of the Agency’s federal funding. The board members who resigned testified in Parliamentary committee about the need for improved scrutiny over the Agency’s funding and deliverables. At about the same time, the Supreme Court of Canada was deliberating on a Constitutional challenge of the governing legislation, and in 2010, large parts of the law were struck. In 2012, the federal budget announced the Agency was closing.


The AHRA received Royal Assent in March 2004, but the Agency was only established in January 2006. The President of AHRC and members of the board of directors of AHRC were only named in December 2006. The President only took office in February 2007, and the first AHRC Board meeting was only held in March 2007.


From the outset, there is criticism of the delays and processes relating to the Agency.

Report on Plans and Priorities 2007-2008: AHRC


The 2008 Estimates list the goals of the AHRC, with emphasis on licensing, inspection, and enforcement.

Report on Plans and Priorities 2008-2009: AHRC

Excerpt from Minister’s message:

“In fulfilling its mandate, AHRC will exercise powers in relation to licenses; designate inspectors to enforce the requirements of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act; maintain relationships with stakeholders including health practitioners, patients and researchers; collect, analyse and manage health reporting information relating to controlled activities; provide information to the public and to the professions on matters to which the Act applies; monitor technological advances and trends in assisted human reproduction; and provide advice to me, the Minister of Health, on assisted human reproduction.” [emphasis added]


The 2009 Estimates claim that the Agency has made great strides in its licensing, inspection and enforcement mandate.

Report on Plans and Priorities 2009-2010: AHRC

Excerpt from Minister’s message:

“AHRC has accomplished a great deal in its short history. The Agency is actively establishing the systems and processes required to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians who use reproductive technologies to build their families. AHRC continues to build networks with key stakeholders involved in assisted human reproduction, both across Canada and around the world.”


The 2010 Estimates claim that regulations are being devleoped by Health Canada, so it has refocused its efforts on “public outreach”.

Report on Plans and Priorities 2009-2010: AHRC

Excerpt from Minister’s message

“While regulations to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act continue to be developed by Health Canada, the Agency is expanding our knowledge of assisted reproduction. Equally valuable, it is ensuring relevant information is made widely available to Canadians through its public outreach and education efforts.”

Three members of the AHRA resign in 2010 over allegations of mismanagement by the President.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health hears testimony from the three resigning Governor-in-Council appointees about mismanagement, including improper spending and contracting.


The Minister’s message touts the Agency’s judicious spending habits following the Parliamentary Standing Committee testimony the previous year.

Report on Plans and Priorities 2010-2011: AHRC

Excerpt from Minister’s message:

“The Government of Canada will continue the judicious use of its funds in ensuring that its activities are carried out in a cost effective manner. Authorized spending projections included in this RPP are subject to revisions following the Government of Canada’s deliberations about the manner of oversight of those provisions of the AHRC Act which are in force in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s opinion on December 22, 2010.”


In the 2012 Estimates, the Minister’s message dilutes the role of the Agency to that of information provider (some argue it failed even in that role).

Report on Plans and Priorities 2011-2012: AHRC

Excerpt from Minister’s message:

“AHRC continues to undertake its responsibilities under those provisions of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act that are in force and provides meaningful information to those Canadians and professionals impacted by the Act. It does so through a judicious use of its funds in ensuring that its activities are carried out in a cost effective manner and in support of government priorities.”

Closure of the Agency is announced, after the Supreme Court strikes large portions of the AHRA.

Budget 2012 (March), Government of Canada

“The Government will introduce legislation to wind down Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, with final closure of operations by March 31, 2013. The winding down of the Agency responds to the 2010 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada that significantly reduced the federal role in assisted human reproduction. Health Canada will take over responsibility for any remaining federal functions such as compliance and enforcement, and outreach.”

A former member of the board writes that the Agency didn’t accomplish its goals in its seven-year existence.

Demise of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada

Françoise Baylis (member of the board of directors of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada from December 2006 to March 2010). Quote:

“Few (if any) will mourn the passing of this agency. Why? Because AHRC did not deliver on its major responsibilities, which included “promoting compliance with and enforcing the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHR Act) related to the prohibitions” as well as “implementing and administering a licensing framework for controlled activities.”

“Canada’s fertility law needs a reset”, Globe and Mail, André Picard. Synopsis: Health columnist André Picard criticizes the agency for its costs and inefficiencies.

“Since its creation in 2006, the regulatory agency has done virtually nothing, and $10-million a year is a hefty price to pay for thumb-twiddling.”

“Human reproduction agency has little to show for $30-million”, Globe and Mail, Gloria Galloway. May 31, 2012.