Advocate for tainted blood victims, John Plater, dies

John Plater, a man who played a key role in getting compensation for the thousands of people infected during Canada's tainted blood scandal, has died.
John Plater, shown on the right in 2007 with his friend, patient's rights activist James Kreppner, refused to be labelled an innocent victim. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

John Plater, a man who played a key role in getting compensation for the thousands of people infected during Canada's tainted blood scandal, has died.

Plater, a lawyer, died on Saturday from complications of HIV and hepatitis C. He was 46.

Plater was 18 when he learned he was HIV positive. A hemophiliac, he was one of tens of thousands in Canada who received tainted blood transfusions in the 1980s.

"When John and I got married 19 years ago, we always knew that this would be the case, that at some point he may die too young," said John's wife, Karen Plater.

But Plater did not become angry or bitter about being infected, and became involved in righting the wrongs that were inflicted on people affected by the scandal.

He was on the Ontario Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (OACHA) from 1990-2010 and worked to successfully persuade the government to call a public inquiry into the scandal.

The Krever report, which came out in 1997, called for tighter rules around blood services and recommended compensation for anyone harmed by tainted blood, regardless of when they were infected.

Plater was also instrumental in helping to secure a $1.1-billion compensation package from the federal government in 2007 for 5,500 Canadians who developed hepatitis C from tainted blood transfusions before 1986 or after 1990, but who were not eligible for a previous package offered by the federal and provincial governments in 1998.

Disliked 'innocent victim' label

"John dedicated his time and energy in the service of others. He will be missed, and will be an inspiration to many for years to come," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a release.

Plater balked at being labelled an "innocent victim" by those who learned he was infected with HIV and hepatitis C from tainted blood.

"When [people] discovered he got it through blood products, they'd be like: 'Oh, OK, that's alright, you're just an innocent victim,'" said Karen Plater in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning.

"And he was like: 'No way. Anyone who is infected with HIV or hep C is a victim. Anyone who has to deal with this disease, we've got all the same issues. It doesn't matter how we're infected. We're all people. And we all have rights and we all have lives that we want to live.'"

Plater was an advocate for harm-reduction programs like needle exchanges and pushed for liver transplants for people who have HIV. Plater never received a transplant.

He was the committee chair of the Canadian Hemophilia Society from 1999 to 2011, and served as the co-chair of the ministerial advisory council on the federal Initiative to address HIV/AIDS in Canada from 2007-2011.

Plater graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto in 1993 and later earned a law degree from York University in 1996.

He ran his own law practice from his home in Thornbury, Ont. Karen Plater said he was trying to close it in recent years, but couldn't say no to people who needed his help.

He was involved with his community in Thornbury, helping with a local community outreach group, he was active in his church group and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

Below is an excerpt of an email Karen Plater sent to CBC News about her husband:

"We believed in three things: love hard, play hard, work hard, and tried to do them in that order.  We sometimes mixed up the play hard and work hard – I remember many a vacations being delayed as he was finishing work on a case or preparing material for a meeting, but we NEVER mixed up the love hard. We loved each other. We loved our family.  We loved our neighbours – those we knew, and those we never met.   Again, thanks for the opportunity to share something about John.  He was an incredible man, and I was honoured to share 20 years of my life with him.  And it’s a bit weird to do an interview on him, but I will never tire of sharing with anyone, about what an incredible person he was.  I hope he will inspire more people to live beyond themselves, and love and care for their neighbours."

With files from Priya Sankaran