Possible changes coming to Canada’s blood donor rules

Alanna Fairey
Life Reporter

After advocating for lifting the restrictions on gay men making blood donations, fourth year Paralegal student, Christopher Karas is bringing the issue to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The motion was originally sparked after Karas, 21, filed a complaint against such restrictions by Canadian Blood Services back in November. Karas felt that there wasn’t a scientific basis for the ban and found it to be discriminatory.

“Discrimination doesn’t just happen once, it has a reverberating factor and so you may experience it more than once,” Karas said.

“When I went to go and donate blood I was denied on the five-year deferral period (after sexual contact with a man), which has now gone down to a year.”

Karas retained a representative to challenge the restriction and after months of advocating will be bringing the issue to the CHRC. He hopes to soon learn when the matter will be brought to a decision.

“This has taken much longer than we were expecting and I am hoping to go to the Tribunal,” Karas said.

Karas noted that this step comes at a time when a new policy blocks trans people from donating blood. Bill C-16, which would update the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ for protection against discrimination, still has not yet been passed by legislation./

“It’s really important that legislation goes through so that we can protect both human rights and legal protections for trans people in Canada,” Karas said.

“I’m hoping that this case can bring about a lot of important conversations about blood and how LGBTQ people are being affected by these policies.”

Communications officer at the Canadian AIDS Society, Janne Charbonneau said that the organization’s position is straightforward.

“We believe that there should be behaviour-based screenings for blood donations rather than one that focuses on populations based on their sexual orientation or gender,” Charbonneau said.

Charbonneau also noted that Canada is not the only country trying to change the MSM (males who have sex with males) policy, remarking that the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and France are also making strides in this direction.

“We are moving to evidence-based alternative screenings for blood donations that will not be based on populations and will not discriminate against specific population groups, in particular against men who have sex with men and transgender persons.”

Recently the federal government held a forum in Toronto to discuss the MSM deferral policy and the trans policy. Karas did not feel that the issues were given enough transparency.

The Toronto Star had reported that the delegates wanted to do more research before making any changes to the legislation.

“I think that’s really disappointing because we know at this point that there isn’t any need for more research,” Karas said.

“The fact that we are demanding for more research is homophobic and transphobic and we are oppressing LGBTQ people, marginalizing people and that’s really disappointing.”

Karas said the next step is to wait at least a month for the government to respond and decide that the case will go to the Tribunal.

“At that point, we hope to make our arguments in Ottawa as to why this ban is discriminatory, and hopefully (highlight) a lot of important issues through protests and I hope that we can have more important conversations about this.”

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