CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

What went wrong in the tainted blood disaster?

The Story

"June" and "Sally" wonder how much longer they have to live. Though the two Ontario women wish to remain anonymous, they're not shy when it comes to finding out who's to blame for the tainted blood they received in the early 1980s. They're among more than 50 people in the province who have filed lawsuits against the Canadian Red Cross -- many of whom only recently discovered they have HIV. That means they've missed the deadline to apply for cash settlements the federal government began paying three years ago to people who received infected blood. And even those who did receive payments are having trouble qualifying for social assistance -- something the government promised would never happen. As the Toronto-based CBC Radio show Metro Morning learns, fingers are pointing everywhere -- to governments, the Red Cross and the hospitals that made no effort to find out who got bad blood.

Medium: Radio
Program: Metro Morning
Broadcast Date: March 17, 1992
Guest(s): "June" , "Sally" , Bill Mandel, Craig Smith
Host: Joe Coté
Reporter: John McGrath
Duration: 8:36

Did You know?

• In February 1988, the Canadian Hemophilia Society filed a request with the Canadian Blood Committee, requesting compensation to people who contracted AIDS through tainted blood products. The request was ignored.
• The first public demand for compensation came two months later from the Royal Society of Canada. The organization, an academy of scientists and scholars, supports research in science and the humanities. Its co-chairman was Justice Horace Krever, who would later head up the inquiry on contaminated blood.

• The federal government responded in December 1989. Any applicant who'd contracted AIDS from blood or blood products received $120,000, tax-free, over four years. This term was set in the belief that recipients would soon die, or be sick enough to qualify for disability payments.
• About 1,250 Canadians received this compensation -- a total of $150 million. Three-quarters of the recipients were hemophiliacs and the remainder contracted HIV through blood transfusions they received during surgery.

• Not everyone who was eligible for compensation applied for it. In return for the money, they had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the government. A group of hemophiliacs in Ontario rejected a settlement and signed on to a class-action lawsuit in 1993. However, a judge said the claims should be considered individually.

• The day before the deadline for provincial compensation, a decision came down in the case of Rochelle Pittman. It awarded her almost $900,000 in damages and legal costs, but also said her case could not be applied universally. Those who had been holding out signed the waiver.

• Hemophiliacs were especially hard hit by HIV because of the blood products that helped control bleeding. These products, called factor concentrates, replace a component of blood that hemophiliacs lack -- Factor VIII or Factor IX. Factor concentrates were manufactured using the blood of thousands of donors, and the AIDS virus survived the process.
• In 1989, it was estimated that 40 per cent of Canadian hemophiliacs had contracted HIV through the use of factor concentrates.

• Spearheaded by hemophiliacs, demands for provincial compensation and an inquiry increased through the summer and fall of 1992. The government declined to call an inquiry, and the Red Cross agreed it would serve no purpose. "We are dealing with a very sad accident for which none of us is responsible," said Georges-Etienne Rivard, medical director for the Red Cross, in 1992.

• As the AIDS crisis was unfolding, many doctors didn't caution hemophiliacs or their spouses to take special precautions to protect against transmitting the disease. Some believed HIV would not lead to AIDS the way it did for other high-risk groups. The basis for this belief seemed to be that because of their use of factor concentrates, hemophiliacs were somehow more resistant to developing full-blown AIDS. This turned out not to be true.


The Krever Report: Canada's Tainted Blood Disaster more