Conservatives pushed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday to “finally keep his promise” to end a discriminatory policy keeping many gay and bisexual men from donating blood at a time when it is badly needed.
In response, Trudeau urged Tory Leader Erin O’Toole to speak to members of his own caucus about their opposition to a government bill that seeks to end the “barbaric” practice of conversion therapy.
Eric Duncan, the first openly gay Conservative MP, rose in question period to say it has been “five years and counting” since Trudeau promised to completely end the policy that bans donations from men who have sex with other men.
Watch the exchange:
Blood donations from gay and bisexual men were banned in Canada between 1992 and 2013, a policy first put in place after thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated products. Seven years ago, Canada shifted to a policy to accept donations from men who abstained from sex with other men for five years.
Since the Liberals came to power, the deferral period for gay and bisexual men looking to donate blood dropped to one year and, as of last year, to three months.
Duncan told the House of Commons that blood donations are “needed urgently” and all parties are united in “ending this outdated stigma now, not in months or years.”
He said the Canadian Medical Association and the “All Blood is Equal” campaign have endorsed a science-based shift to a screening process that asks about individual sexual behaviour, rather than sexual orientation.
“Will the prime minister finally keep his promise and put an immediate end to this discrimination?” Duncan asked.
Trudeau: ‘That is our goal and that is what we are going to do’
Trudeau noted that eliminating the blood ban was a Liberal platform commitment from 2015 and said his government is “working forward” towards that objective.
“But we needed to do that based on science,” Trudeau said. “Unfortunately, under the (Stephen) Harper government, the blood services were starved of the research money necessary to do the work.”
Trudeau said his government has provided funding to the Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to “do the scientific research necessary” to be able to finally eliminate the blood ban.
“That is our goal and that is what we are going to do,” he said.
O’Toole then criticized the prime minister for not taking action on a promise he has made several times over the last few years. He asked the prime minister to answer Duncan’s question and provide a timeline to live up to his pledge.
Trudeau noted the deferral period for gay and bisexual men has come down since Liberals came to power and said his government has funded 15 projects to “find the evidence necessary to eliminate it altogether.” That finish line is in sight, the prime minister said.
The prime minister then pointedly added that he was “very pleased” to see Tory MPs standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ2 community, remarks that caused a few Liberal ministers to nod.
“I just wish they would talk to their members who continue to stand in favour of the barbaric conversion therapy,” he said. “It would be nice to see the Conservative party stand with the LGBTQ community for once.”
O’Toole pledged in his Tory leadership platform to “end the discriminatory blood ban” and, since winning the job in August, has said LGBTQ Canadians should feel they have a home in his party.
However, the Tory leader also allowed his caucus to vote freely on Bill C-6, which aims to criminalize the practice of forcing children or adults to undergo so-called “therapy” to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, a wholly discredited concept.
Duncan’s challenge to the prime minister Wednesday comes roughly two weeks after a committee hearing in which he repeatedly pushed Health Minister Patty Hajdu to lift the blood ban.
Duncan said at the time that he wanted to personalize the issue. He told the House that he wants to donate blood that is needed because of shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, but can’t because he is gay.
“In the year 2020, why is that?” he asked.
Duncan asked the health minister if she’d take his blood
Though Hajdu said she agreed the ban needs to end and shared his frustration, Duncan said Liberals were not doing enough to “end the stigma and end the discrimination against gay men in this country.”
Duncan asked the health minister three times if she would be comfortable accepting blood from him and did not receive a direct answer to his question.
“Does she not feel comfortable, with me being a gay man, taking my blood?” he asked.
Hajdu’s mandate letter from the prime minister asks that she work with Diversity and Inclusion Minister Bardish Chagger, as well as the Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, to “implement a behaviour-based model of donation that eliminates the blood ban for men who have sex with other men.”