RCMP officers and Health Canada investigators raided the offices
of a Raymond-based health product company, alleging it has been
selling a nutritional supplement to the mentally ill without
About a dozen armed officers surprised employees of Truehope
Nutritional Support Ltd. at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday when they swept in
and demanded everyone in the call centre stop working and back away
from their computers. Mounties from Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal
then began downloading information from hard drives and rifling
through filing cabinets.
Officers also backed up vans to the building's doors and prepared
to take stacks of documents away.
The owners of the company say they are outraged at the action,
but not surprised, accusing Health Canada of bearing a long-held
vendetta against them.
"We have nothing to hide," said David Hardy, who with Tony
Stephan started Truehope about seven years ago in Raymond, about 30
kilometres southeast of Lethbridge.
Stephan said he's worried his 3,000 customers will suddenly have
to go without the nutritional supplement Empowerplus, a combination
of 36 vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Each of those substances
is sold individually on shelves in North America without a problem,
he added. He's also worried Health Canada will use the database
information to phone all their customers and tell them not to use
the nutritional supplement.
Health Canada, however, said Truehope and its related company,
The Synergy Group of Canada, have been making health claims about
Empowerplus. Under Canadian law, making those claims classifies the
supplement as a drug and therefore requires solid scientific proof
of its effectiveness before it can be legally sold.
The government claims it has told Truehope and Synergy to provide
a new drug submission but they have never done so. That has led to
the accusations they have been promoting and selling Empowerplus
"Our main concern deals with the unproven health claims being
made about Empowerplus and the recommendation that patients decrease
the dose of, or eliminate altogether, medications prescribed by
their doctors," said Health Canada in a news release Tuesday.
Hardy and Stephan went into business seven years ago after, they
say, children in both their families, along with Stephan's wife,
were diagnosed with mental illnesses. Stephan said his wife
committed suicide after years of suffering from bipolar disorder,
spurring him to look for a cure to protect his kids. Around that
time he met Hardy, a former animal feed expert. Together, they came
up with the idea to give their loved ones pills based on a
nutritional supplement Hardy had given to calm agitated pigs.
The product reportedly worked well and they came up with a
version for humans which they have called Empowerplus, a combination
of 36 minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. The men claim they now
have thousands of satisfied customers, many of whom have dropped
their conventional medications and are living normal lives. Health
Canada, however, believes those using Empowerplus are putting their
health at risk and it issued a health advisory June 6 this year
asking Canadians not to use it.
In addition to many dedicated customers, Stephan and Hardy have
some high-profile allies. Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney blasted
the government for using what he called bureaucratic interference to
keep a product away from people who want it.
"It's outrageous Health Canada continues this ruse," he said,
criticizing the government's rules that designate Empowerplus as a
drug. "It betrays the public trust."
Meanwhile, opponents of Empowerplus applauded Health Canada's
"I'm absolutely ecstatic," said Marvin Ross, the head of the
Hamilton chapter of the Ontario Schizophrenia Society and co-author
of the book Pig Pills, which attacks Empowerplus as a false remedy.
"It's reprehensible to be encouraging very ill people to drop their
medication in favour of 36 vitamins and minerals."
There is some preliminary scientific evidence the pills work. A
2001 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found 19 of the
22 male bipolar patients tested showed a positive response, with 11
stable for up to nine months without other drugs. A similar study at
the University of Calgary by Bonnie Kaplan found similar