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Blood ban policy unchanged as Trudeau prepares to apologize to LGBTQ Canadians

Critics say the policy, which prevents any man who had sex with a man from donating blood, isn't representative of the inclusive and welcoming Canada the prime minister wants to show.

Christopher Karas, is leading a court challenge against the Canadian Blood Services ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Christopher Karas, is leading a court challenge against the Canadian Blood Services ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stand in the House of Commons on Tuesday and apologize to LGBTQ Canadians who were discriminated against as public servants or in the military. The Prime Minister is also expected to announce legislation expunging criminal records for people who were charged with crimes for having consensual sex with someone of their gender.

Christopher Karas does not accept.

Karas said those moves are laudable, but the government’s refusal, despite its election promise, to end the policy preventing men who have had sex with men from donating blood undercuts Trudeau’s words.

“I don’t think an apology will be enough. The government has to do more than speak about the wrongs they made,” he said.

Canadian Blood Services has had, since the mid 1980s, a policy preventing any man who had sex with a man from donating blood.

Initially the ban was for life, but it has since been scaled back. Men who have not had sex with a man in the last year are now eligible to donate, but Karas said expecting a year of abstinence from people before they give blood is essentially a ban.

Karas is currently banned for five years after attempting to donate before the one-year policy was in place. He filed a challenge in August 2016 with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, an independent body that attempts to mediate matters or sends them to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing.  

Karas’ lawyer James Hill said the government and Canadian Blood Services responded in March and he responded to their response in April, but no hearings have been scheuduled.

“They don’t want this case to be heard,” he said. “We haven’t seen any movement on this.”

He said the core of their argument is that the science isn't there to support the current policy.

“There is only one test for everybody, they don’t have a separate test for people who are gay,” said Hill.

On their website, Canadian Blood Services argues the deferral for men who have sex with men is a screening question, meant to reduce the chances that an infected blood donation gets through testing.

The agency is continuing to do research on the issue, but argues the HIV rate among men who have sex with men is higher than the population at large, thus warranting the screening question.

NDP MP Randall Garrison, the party’s critic on LGBTQ issues, said if the government is going to apologize on Tuesday it would make sense to stop "doing things that you may have to apologize for in the future.”

He said the science simply doesn’t support a ban and the government can make a change if it wants.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor was asked last week about the blood ban and how it fits with her government’s apology.

“We continue to look at that area for sure because it's certainly an area that is a priority of ours as well,” she said.

Meanwhile, Karas is left feeling like Trudeau "played politics during the election."

The apology, he said, is aimed at showing that Canada is an inclusive and wecloming place. Continuining the blood ban against gay men shows precisely the opposite, he said.

“I am not able to donate even for my own use,” he said. “I can’t use my own blood because it’s too gay.”

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