The parliamentary leader of the federal New Democrats says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apology to members of the LGBTQ2 community will ring "hollow" if his government keeps in place a policy that restricts gay men from donating blood.
Trudeau delivered a lengthy, emotional speech in the House of Commons Tuesday where he addressed decades of discrimination LGBTQ2 Canadians faced from the federal government, including the so-called "purge" that saw thousands of people investigated, humiliated, and kicked out of the military and public service.
Guy Caron's response on behalf of the NDP urged that the moment be a "springboard for action" for Parliament to tackle discriminatory policies that continue to penalize LGBTQ2 Canadians.
"As some have said, this would be a good time to stop doing things the government might have to apologize for in the future," Caron told the House.
In particular, Caron pointed to the controversial Health Canada policy that states Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec only accept blood from men who have not had sex with other men for at least a year. Caron said "almost every health professional" agrees that there is no scientific basis for the ban.
"This is, Mr. Speaker, a policy which not only stigmatizes gay men but also continues to restrict the supply of blood and organs at a time when the need is so great," Caron said.
The NDP MP saluted the Trudeau government, however, for reaching an agreement in principle in a class-action lawsuit filed by members of the military and public service who were fired or saw their careers stifled because of their sexual orientation. Caron also lauded new Liberal legislation that will expunge convictions for consensual sex acts between same-sex partners.
This would be a good time to stop doing things the government might have to apologize for in the future.Guy Caron
Yet, NDP MPs have frequently reminded Liberals that they have fallen short of their 2015 election promise to bring an end to the policy that keeps many gay men from giving blood.
"We will bring an end to the discriminatory ban that prevents men who have had sex with men from donating blood," the Liberal platform stated.
The document noted that, at the time, the Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec would reject donations from men who had sex with other men at any point within five years, even if it was monogamous and safe.
"This policy ignores scientific evidence and must end," it stated.
But in 2016, Liberals shifted only to the one-year deferral period for donating blood, a move that then-health minister Jane Philpott conceded was not a "radical change," but a step in the right direction.
Health Canada said at the time that men who have sex with other men still account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections reported in Canada.
The tainted blood scandal of the early 1980s, in which 30,000 Canadians became infected with hepatitis C and 2,000 more contracted HIV from contaminated blood products, has factored heavily into the debate around changing donation rules. Gay men were entirely banned from donating blood until 2013.
NDP MPs pressed Liberals to fully scrap the ban in the lead-up to Tuesday's announcement.
"How can the Liberals offer a sincere and meaningful apology to the LGBTQ community for past injustices when they are practicing discrimination in the present?" NDP health critic Don Davies asked in the House earlier this month.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor responded at the time that the government "took steps" to reduce barriers that prevent gay men from donating blood.
"Through our efforts over the years, Canada continues to have one of the safest blood systems in the world," she said.
Petitpas Taylor told reporters Tuesday that more research is being done so that the government can "eventually" make the shift.
"We were pleased last year that it went down from five years to one year and now we continue to look forward to ... the work that needs to go forward," she said.
Randy Boissonnault, Trudeau's special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues, delivered much the same message at a press conference.
"Minister Philpott, when she was minister of health, allocated $3.5 million to Héma-Québec and to the Canadian Blood Services to conduct the research ... so that we can get the ban where it is right now from one year down to zero," he said.
"Am I happy where we are? No. Do we have more work to do? Yes. And that's why our government stepped up to make sure the funding is there so we can follow the science and get this work done."
On Tuesday, new rules came into effect in Britain allowing gay men to donate blood within three months of having sex, according to The Independent. The previous policy allowed men to make donations only if they abstained from sex with other men for a full year.
With files from Zi-Ann Lum, Althia Raj
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