Red Cross fined $5,000 in tainted blood deal

The Canadian Red Cross on Monday pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the tainted blood case and publicly apologized.

The Canadian Red Cross was fined $5,000 for its role in the tainted blood scandal after it pleaded guilty to a lesser charge for its role in what's been called a "public health calamity."

In exchange for not bringing the case to trial, the Red Cross agreed to plead guilty to violating the Food and Drug Regulation Act by distributing an adulterated, or contaminated, drug. The $5,000 fine is the maximum penalty for that charge under the Food and Drugs Act..

It had originally faced six charges of committing a common nuisance by endangering the lives, safety or health of the public.

The secretary general of the Canadian Red Cross delivered a videotaped apology to the Hamilton courtroom, accepting the organization's responsibility for its role in the tainted blood scandal.

As a third point in the agreement, the Red Cross will give $1.5 million to the University of Ottawa for a scholarship for family members of those affected and a research endowment fund.

The judge will not formally deliver the sentence until a later court date on June 30, but Crown lawyer John Ayre called the proposed fine reasonable.

"The Canadian Red Cross Society is deeply sorry for the injury and death ... for the suffering caused to families and loved ones of those who were harmed," said Dr. Pierre Duplessis, the secretary general of the Red Cross, in his taped statement.

"We accept responsibility through our plea for having distributed harmful products for those that rely on us for their health."

More than 1,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and up to 20,000 with hepatitis C after receiving tainted blood products from the charity in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was one of the worst public health disasters in Canada.

As of 1997, about 3,000 people had died. While others have died since then, more recent estimates are not available.

John Playter, spokesperson for the Canadian Hemophiliac Society, called the day historic.

"For the first time in Canadian history...we've learned without a doubt that at the centre of the worst public health tragedy in our country's history there were people breaking laws and that resulted in people's deaths," said Playter.

Monday's proceedings did not deal with charges laid against the former director of blood transfusions, Dr. Roger Perrault.

He and three other doctors, along with New Jersey-based Armour Pharmaceutical Co., are accused of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and endangering the public. The charges are for allegedly allowing Armour's HIV-infected blood-clotting product to be given to hemophilia patients.

The RCMP started their investigation after a 1997 commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Horace Krever, blamed governments and the Red Cross for failing to put safety measures in place to protect the public.

Krever, who called the scandal a "nationwide public health calamity," didn't have the authority to assign criminal blame in his report.