INDEPTH: TAINTED BLOOD
Tainted blood scandal
CBC News Online | May 30, 2005
"We've done the best we can under very difficult circumstances." The speaker
federal Health Minister Allan Rock. The date Feb. 27, 1998.
The federal and provincial governments were
releasing details of a $1.1-billion package to compensate people who had
contracted hepatitis C from transfusions of tainted blood. The major
catch you had to be infected between 1986 and 1990 to qualify. Canada
wasn't using a test that might have screened for the virus between those
The governments argued there was no test available
to screen blood for the virus before 1986, so there was no way to protect
the blood supply. After 1990, the governments said, all possible
precautions were in place.
The offer came despite a recommendation by the
report of the Krever Inquiry a year earlier, which
called for compensation for anyone harmed by bad blood, regardless of
when they were infected.
In just over two months, Ontario would break ranks, saying
people who were infected before 1986 had waited long enough for help. The
province came up with another $200 million for victims of tainted blood.
"Regardless of legal liability, all governments
have a moral responsibility to Canadians who placed their faith in the
blood system, and, through no fault of their own, became infected,"
Ontario Premier Mike Harris wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Jean
Harris urged the federal government to extend the
package as per the Krever Report's
The government had already offered money to people who contracted HIV from blood transfusions and
tainted blood. On Dec. 14, 1989, Ottawa
provided $150 million for 1,250 infected Canadians.
Four years later, Mr. Justice Horace Krever was asked to look into what went so wrong with
the nation's blood supply in the 1980s. Krever's
mandate was to "review and report on the mandate, organization,
management, operations, financing, and regulation of all activities of
the blood system in Canada,
including the events surrounding the contamination of the blood system in
in the early 1980s."
Initially, the inquiry was ordered to submit its
final report by Sept. 30, 1994, but the deadline was extended twice,
first to Dec. 31, 1995, and then to Sept. 30, 1996. The budget of the
inquiry was first set at $2.5 million but eventually grew to over $16
As the inquiry got to work on Nov. 22, 1993, Krever promised that he would not be concerned with
criminal or civil liability but by November 1995, he said charges of
misconduct might be brought forward at some point and that he had an
obligation to warn people they might be accused of wrongdoing.
On Dec. 21, 1995, the public hearings
phase of the inquiry ended. The commission
sent out notices to the Red Cross, various governments and pharmaceutical
companies informing them it wanted to levy charges of misconduct against
people and agencies involved in the tainted blood scandal.
For the next five months, the inquiry ground to a
halt as those who received notices went to court to have the notices
quashed on the grounds that they violated Krever's
pledge not to assess blame, and that they came at the end of hearings
when it was no longer possible to challenge certain evidence.
In June 1996, a federal judge ruled that the Red
Cross and those who ran it in the early 1980s could be named by the
commission if Krever found they were to blame.
The federal government, provincial health ministries, pharmaceutical
companies and people who guided the blood system when the tainted
transfusions occurred could also be named if they were deemed responsible.
The Inquiry wrapped up in December 1996. In July
1997, Allan Rock announced the Red Cross would not have a role in a new
Canadian blood agency. After more than 50 years of running the country's
blood system, the Red Cross would be reduced to recruiting blood donors.
Charges were eventually laid against the Red Cross, a U.S.-based pharmaceutical company
and several doctors. The charges laid on Nov. 20, 2002, followed a
five-year investigation by the RCMP. They alleged that the accused failed
to properly screen blood donors, failed to test blood properly, and
failed to warn the public that there were risks associated with blood
On May 30, 2005, the Red Cross pleaded guilty to a
lesser charge violating the Food and Drug Regulation Act by
distributing an adulterated or contaminated drug. The agency was fined
$5,000 the maximum penalty for the offence under the act.
The secretary general of the Red Cross delivered a
videotaped apology to the courtroom, accepting the organization's responsibility
for its role in the tainted blood scandal.
The agency also agreed to give $1.5 million to the University of Ottawa to fund a scholarship
program for family members of those affected and a research endowment
In his report, Krever had
recommended that all victims of the tainted blood tragedy be compensated,
not just those covered by Ottawa's
original package. That was back in 1997.
On April 20, 2005, the House of Commons approved a
motion extending compensation to another 5,000 Canadians who contracted
hepatitis C and HIV through tainted blood. The Conservative motion was
passed unanimously. It extended compensation to people who had been
excluded from a previous compensation package, which only covered people
infected between 1986 and 1990.
Not as many people applied to the $1.1-billion fund
as expected, leaving perhaps enough money for more than 5,000 people
left out of that package.
Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh denied that Ottawa did the wrong thing by
originally limiting compensation. Things have changed, he told reporters,
and the time is right.
"While we are supporting the motion, we do so
recognizing its limitations," said Dosanjh.
The government is trying to determine how much money
is left and it hasn't set a deadline on when it will finish that review.
As well, lawyers representing victims who fall within the original dates
have said they may resist changes to the rules on eligibility and take
the matter to court, further delaying possible compensation for Canadians
who received transfusions of bad blood.