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

Old-growth logging protesters block a road on Monday, June 14. This is not the blockade at Honeymoon Bay referred to in the story. (Facebook photo)
Old-growth logging protesters block RCMP access on road near Honeymoon Bay

Police were on their way to enforcement in Fairy Creek area when they were stopped

DAVID VAN DEVENTER
Cowichan Citizen and Lake Cowichan Gazette announce new publisher

David van Deventer has been with Black Press Media since 2014

Island Health is bringing a vaccination clinic to Lake Cowichan starting June 23. (Submitted)
COVID vaccine clinic coming to Lake Cowichan as area numbers lag

Clinic will operate at arena starting June 23

The Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society, which has been operating a treatment centre on land leased from the Nanoose First Nation for 35 years (pictured), has begun a fundraising campaign to open a new centre near Duncan. (Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society photo)
New Indigenous treatment centre to be built near Duncan

Centre will help survivors of residential schools

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Saltair man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Two ambulances and a medevac helicopter are on scene at Taylor River Flats rest area on Highway 4 due to a serious motor vehicle incident. (PHOTO COURTESY MAGGIE BROWN)
Highway 4 reopens between Port Alberni and Tofino

Multi-vehicle accident temporarily closed highway in both directions

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Most Read