When Justin Trudeau was campaigning to be prime minister, here’s what his party’s platform said about the blood ban:
“We will bring an end to the discriminatory ban that prevents men who have had sex with men from donating blood,” it read. “This policy ignores scientific evidence and must end.”
But eight months into the Liberal government’s tenure, it’s become clear that there’s no end in sight.
Health Canada has just accepted a recommendation from Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to reduce the deferral period from five years to one year. That means that a man must abstain from sex with other men for a year before he can donate blood.
“I have to say quite frankly, I was a little disappointed when that came out,” Trudeau says. “I understand that going from five years to one year is a small step in the right direction. But it doesn’t make one whit of difference in the vast majority of people who would want to donate but who are being prohibited from it.”
Trudeau is quick to emphasize that a promised $3 million for further research into blood donations would help to bolster the case for ending the ban in the near future.
The prime minister says that his government can’t interfere because CBS and Héma-Québec are arm’s-length institutions.
“It would be very very difficult for us to tell CBS to behave in a particular way or to go further without them doing the work themselves, which is why we’re sending them money so they can get cracking on the work that we know needs doing,” he says. “It’s frustrating to me, but sometimes the system moves slower than even a prime minister is able to make happen.”
Then why did the Trudeau Liberals campaign to bring an end to the blood ban if it’s not really in the government’s power to do so?
“There’s a lot of things in the platform that we haven’t been able to do for six months since we got elected,” he says. “We have to get a lot of things done and we have four years to fulfill our commitments and we’re going to work very, very hard to do that.”
Whether or not the government has the power to impose less stringent regulations than those proposed by CBS and Hema-Quebec is something that’s up for debate. The government maintains that it can’t, but as VICE’s Justin Ling argues, Health Canada’s blood regulations seem to state that the minister of health has more wiggle-room.
In addition to keeping the blood ban, CBS also announced a new policy that covers trans people who want to donate — trans women will be treated as men unless they get genital surgery. Even then, they’ll have to wait a year after the surgery before they can donate blood.
The policy has been widely disparaged by trans people, who argue that it’s transphobic and illogical.
When asked if this is an issue the government should be outspoken about changing, Trudeau says that it’s a piece of wider governmental efforts.
“That is actually part of a much larger issue that I’ve asked our government to look into and address; the questions of identity on your passport, on identity cards, on how you get to identify or self-identify,” he says.
He says that Canada has a lot of catching up to do on trans rights as a whole.
“I think there are a lot of other jurisdictions that do a much better job of that and that’s one of the things that we’re going to be working on to change an entire system so that it lines up better with our values as people who are open and accepting.”