LGBT activist’s complaint over wait period for blood donation referred to human rights tribunal

A federal human rights complaint challenging Canada’s policy requiring gay men to observe a waiting period between having sex and donating blood has been referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for an inquiry.

Christopher Karas, a Brampton resident, filed the complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in 2016.

At the time of the filing, Karas told CBC News the policy was “based on fear.”

In a Sept. 25 decision, the CHRC said “after reviewing the complaint form, the investigation report, the conciliation report and all the submissions of the parties,” it has requested that the tribunal institute an inquiry. The CHRC referred the complaint to conciliation in August 2018, but it was returned to the commission for a decision as the matter was not resolved.

At issue is whether the Canadian Blood Services’ blood donor deferral policy, which is applied to gay men, is discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation.

In Oct. 2018, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) said it was considering another change to its donation policy that would allow gay men who have abstained from sex for three months to give blood, down from the current one-year waiting period.

The organization — which manages the national supply of blood products — said at the time that it had been reviewing research that suggests the abstinence period can be reduced and still keep the blood supply safe.

Gay and bisexual men have faced restrictions since the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s, when thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV or hepatitis C from donated blood.

Lifetime ban lifted in 2013

A lifetime ban was lifted in 2013, when Canada moved to a policy that allowed donations from men who said they had abstained from sex with other men for five years. In 2016, that deferral period was dropped to one year.

The CHRC said in its decision that the issues raised in Karas’s complaint would most appropriately be considered by the tribunal, “which can examine and weigh the extensive and highly technical evidence submitted by the parties in support of their respective positions.”

For example, CHRC noted that the deferral period has been reduced from five years to three months since the date the complaint was submitted, and that the parties strongly disagree as to the necessity of any deferral period whatsoever.

CBS considers men who have sex with men a high-risk group, as they account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections reported in Canada.

In 2016, this group represented 44.1 per cent of reported HIV cases in Canada.

Many have pushed for CBS and Health Canada to drop the deferral period altogether, calling it discriminatory.

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