Question Period: Canadian Blood Services

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, my question is also for the Government Representative in the Senate. Senator Gold, as Canadians celebrate Pride Month and National Blood Donor Week, I feel compelled to ask the following question concerning the practices of Canadian Blood Services. Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University, recently published an open letter to the Minister of Health outlining how the Canadian Blood Services screening questionnaire and protocol are steeped in anti-Black homophobia — screening questions that make potential blood donors ineligible to donate due to being born in specific countries in Africa or having a sexual history that discriminates against Black people, LGBTQ+ people and mostly Black gay queer men. Excluding potential donors based on these factors without testing blood for HIV perpetuates a stereotype that Black LGBTQ+ people are falsely assumed to have HIV.

Dr. Dryden also expressed concerns with the anti-Black racism she has experienced from Canadian Blood Services while advocating for the eradication of their discriminatory practices. Her calls for accountability and requests for this Canadian medical institution to address systemic discrimination have been met with aggression and attempts to silence and dismiss her concerns.

Senator Gold, how has the Canadian government allowed this institution to maintain a policy that actively discriminates against people based on their racial identity or geographic origin and sexual activity?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for raising this important question. The government believes the gay blood ban is, in fact, a discriminatory practice. I have been advised that since 2015 this government has reduced the deferral period for donation to three months for men who have had sex with other men, significantly down from the five-year deferral period that applied in 2013, and it remains a matter under continuous study. The government has funded 19 research projects as part of the government’s push for Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to move towards a behaviour-based model and to abandon this discriminatory practice.

With regard to the ban based on African country of origin, I will request that information from the government and report back when I receive it. Thank you.

Senator Bernard: Senator Gold, in addition to addressing the systemic racism, what steps will the government take to restore faith in Canadian Blood Services by Canada’s Black community?

Senator Gold: Senator, thank you. The government knows there’s much work that still needs to be done to eliminate the facts of systemic racism in our health care system and the appreciation of the system. I’ll have to request more information from the government and report back.

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