A blood donor clinic pictured at a shopping mall in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 27, 2020. A man who is challenging Canada’s policy that prohibits sexually active gay men from donating blood is questioning why the Trudeau government is trying to block his case, despite a 2015 Liberal pledge to end the ban.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A blood donor clinic pictured at a shopping mall in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 27, 2020. A man who is challenging Canada’s policy that prohibits sexually active gay men from donating blood is questioning why the Trudeau government is trying to block his case, despite a 2015 Liberal pledge to end the ban.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Gay activist upset at Ottawa’s attempt to block challenge of blood-donation ban

Government has launched a judicial review to stop complaint by Christopher Karas from going further

A man who is challenging Canada’s policy that prohibits sexually active gay men from donating blood wants to know why the Trudeau government is trying to block his case, despite a 2015 Liberal pledge to end the ban.

Christopher Karas brought a human-rights complaint against Health Canada in 2016 and three years later the Canadian Human Rights Commission decided to refer the matter to a tribunal for a more substantial probe.

But the federal government has since launched a judicial review to stop the complaint from going further, arguing that it is about a policy not set by Health Canada, but rather by the Canadian Blood Services — an arm’s-length agency.

Karas says he is confused and upset Ottawa is challenging his case, especially since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised repeatedly since 2015 his government would end the gay blood ban.

“I was caught off guard when I saw the application for judicial review because it was my impression that the federal government wanted this policy to be eliminated. But we’re seeing here the complete opposite,” Karas said in an interview.

“From the very beginning, I’ve felt of very little value, I’ve felt that I can’t contribute and this was just confirming that … I would have thought by now we would have made more progress.”

The policy of excluding men who have had recent sex with men (MSM) from donating blood or plasma — originally a lifetime ban — was implemented in 1992 after thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through tainted blood products.

Donor eligibility criteria has changed since then, including in 2019 when Health Canada approved requests from Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec to decrease the deferral period of the time men must abstain from sexual activity with other men before donating blood from one year to three months.

Trudeau has pledged multiple times since 2015 to eliminate the gay blood ban and to date his government has committed $3 million toward research on moving toward more behaviour-based donation policies.

But despite repeated calls from health and LGBTQ2S advocates and despite an explicit mention of Trudeau’s promise in Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s mandate letter, no further policy changes have materialized.

In its legal application to the Federal Court, the government argues it is “not a proper party to a complaint about the MSM policy.”

“Health Canada does not require, implement or administer the MSM policy or any other blood screening policy,” the federal government says in its judicial review application.

“CBS (Canada Blood Services) develops its policies and procedures independently, and at arm’s length, from Health Canada.”

It further argues the independence of the blood agency from the federal government from political interference is “a cornerstone of Canada’s blood system” and was one of the key recommendations of the Krever Commission, launched in response to Canada’s tainted blood scandal.

But Karas’s lawyer, Shakir Rahim, argues this argument doesn’t hold water because Health Canada is the regulator for the country’s blood system, and therefore has a role in the Canadian Blood Services’ policies, including the MSM ban.

“They’re trying to say that the actions of Health Canada as it relates to the blood ban should just not be examined at all, and that raises a lot of concerns, particularly because it is this government and its successive ministers of health, that have taken a position that they are going to end the blood ban,” Rahim said.

“(This) sets up a bit of a contradiction that we think is at the heart of the problems with the government’s case here.”

The issue has been raised multiple times over the years by opposition MPs in the House of Commons, including last week during question period.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel-Garner both pressed government ministers on the issue, calling it discriminatory and homophobic.

“This is harmful and upsetting to the gay community. That is clear and the Liberals know it,” Singh said.

“Why did the prime minister campaign on withdrawing this ban when he is now defending it in court?”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she “agrees that this is a discriminatory practice that is hurting a lot of Canadians” and promised Ottawa is “working very hard right now to eliminate it.”

“At the same time, we respect the independence of Canadian institutions, especially when it comes to medical and scientific issues.”

The judicial review is scheduled to be heard in Federal Court on May 27.

—Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Royal Bay pride crosswalk restored following graffiti attack

RELATED: Study looks at how HIV self-tests can help queer people overcome health-care hurdles

Just Posted

Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair logo
Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair cancelled again due to COVID-19 restrictions

The 2022 fall fair is still scheduled to take place in Port Hardy

North Island Gazette
EDITORIAL: What to do about homelessness in Port Hardy

‘people suffering from homelessness deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion’

North Island Eagles logo
North Island Eagles give update on the upcoming 2021-2022 season

The North Island Eagles minor rep hockey teams are getting ready for… Continue reading

Ma Murrays 2021 virtual ceremony screenshot
North Island Gazette wins big at 2021 Ma Murray Newspaper Awards

Zoe Ducklow and Bill McQuarrie both won gold at the online ceremony

Port Hardy council has agreed to cancel Canada Day celebrations in wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children being found on the grounds of a former residential school. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Council votes to cancel Canada Day celebrations in wake of mass grave sites being found

Coun. Treena Smith made the motion for the chamber to not host Canada Day celebrations this year

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read