Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to faithful Catholics, particularly those in my riding of Cambridge-North Dumfries, on the heartbreaking loss of Pope Jean Paul. He was a man who worked hard to thread our world together. He was a man of our times, a faithful man of God.
I would like members to imagine going into a hospital and coming out even sicker than when they went in and I would like them to imagine that something could have been done about it. This is what happened to thousands of Canadians who received tainted blood.
These people went to a hospital seeking treatment but were unwittingly poisoned by a system they trusted. People of all ages from all walks of life were poisoned by a system they trusted, a system that let them down. Then, as if that was not ghastly enough, they were let down again by the regulators of that system, their federal government.
On April 28, 1998, the Liberal government, many of whose members are still here today, voted against an opposition motion that would have extended compensation to all victims of tainted blood, not just those who were infected between this mythical window of 1986 to 1990.
First I would like to debunk the legal reasons for limiting compensation to only those infected between 1986 and 1990 and then I want to explain the reasons why all victims of tainted blood must be treated equally.
In 1998 when the Liberal government voted against extending compensation to victims outside this artificial window, the nation was told that doing so would bankrupt the system. Canadians were told that there were 22,000 victims in this artificial window and an additional 60,000 outside that window. That information was completely incorrect.
In 1998, when the minister of health at the time was told that people were being infected in the early 1980s and as early as 1980, that health minister rose and stated that “there was no possible way, no way at all, that science could have discovered what contaminants were in that blood”. That, too, was completely false.
Let us discuss these false numbers and these false statements. As a doctor of chiropractic, I am trained to make decisions based on real fact. Today I want to share with the House and the people of Canada some of the real facts about the Liberals' numbers and their incorrect statements .
The original settlement was to compensate 22,000 victims. Those were Liberal numbers. Those numbers, thank God, never materialized. They were exaggerated.
As a matter of fact, as of exactly one month ago, March 4, 2005, there have been only 4,535 victims of primarily infected tainted blood. Those are the claims: not 22,000 but less than 5,000.
What about the other number, the victims outside this artificial window, those outside the 1986 to 1990 group? The number claimed by the Liberals seven years ago was 60,000. That also is completely incorrect. There are only 5,071 claims, which is a far cry from the numbers used to scare Canadians about compensating all victims.
The original settlement of $1.1 billion was supposed to properly compensate 22,000 victims within this window. Now we know that the total number of victims inside and outside that window is only half that false number.
Here are more astonishing and yet distressing facts. Besides legal fees of some $58 million and despite administration fees of approximately a quarter of a million dollars per month, the fund still made $60 million more than it paid out. Despite all the payouts--and the fund is still massive at well over $1 billion and growing--people are dying.
The money is there. The numbers were exaggerated. Doing the right thing in compensating all victims of tainted blood will not bankrupt the system.
On to my second point about the false and misleading statements that nothing could have been done to make blood systems safer in Canada prior to 1986.
On May 1, 1998, the Hon. Allan Rock stated in the House:
--governments should pay cash compensation when they have caused damages and when those responsible for the system could and should have acted.
There are certainly not many things that I would agree with coming from that side of the House, but I agree with that statement. The words “when those responsible could have and should have acted” really resonate with me. Could things have been done differently? Let us examine the facts.
During the 1950s, before I was born, the presence of certain enzymes above normal levels were used to assess liver function. It was thought that they could also be used to diagnose hepatitis. As early as 1954, also before I was born, it was suggested in medical literature that post-transfusion hepatitis might be reduced by using tests for those enzymes to screen perspective blood donors.
By the late 1950s, probably around the time I was born, simple methods had been developed for measuring the level of alanine amino transferase, or ALT, in the serum.
The preliminary results in 1978 suggested an association between ALT levels in donors and the occurrence of non-A and non-B hepatitis, which we now call hepatitis C in recipients. The final results of that study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981, confirming that there was an association between higher levels of ALT in the donor and those of gaining hepatitis in the recipient. That was in 1981.
On January 14, 1981, the American Red Cross stated, “Blood services providers should prepare to test all units collected and to avoid transfusion of units with elevated ALT values”.
In 1982 the New York Blood Center adopted a policy of ALT testing. This blood centre is the largest in the United States and it deals with approximately the same number of transfusions as we do in all of Canada. It estimated that testing would prevent up to 10,000 infections annually, an interesting figure. In 1982 the largest blood centre in the United States could have and did act. France started testing in 1985. All prior to this 1986 window.
Dr. Patrick Moore, director of the National Reference Library of the Red Cross and one of Canada's foremost experts on hepatitis, called for the immediate implementation of ALT testing in Canada. That was in May 1981. His recommendation was rejected by his superiors and regrettably, federal regulators chose not to make testing mandatory.
On May 22, 1981, right in Ottawa, a memo from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario asked Health and Welfare Canada to, “screen approximately 20 donors for the presence of any of the viral contaminates which may contribute to post-transfusion hepatitis and for which you have the appropriate testing methods”.
Health Canada had the appropriate testing methods in 1981, and therein lies the crux of the problem. When is the definitive date that the government could have or should have done something? Was it 1981, 1975 or 1954? We are not sure. What we do know as fact it was before this funny window of 1986.
On May 5, 1998 the right hon. Jean Chrétien said in the House, “when there is negligence there is responsibility”. The Liberal government shirked its responsibility seven years ago when it refused to treat all victims of tainted blood. The only question left is this. Will the Liberals continue to shirk that responsibility?
In his final report on the tragedy, Judge Krever noted that we could tell a lot about a society by how it dealt with people such as those with tainted blood. He said:
The compassion of a society can be judged by the measure it takes to reduce the impact of tragedy that is on its members.
A young man whom I have come to know very well said it best. To the prime minister of the day, he said:
Can you tell me the difference between someone infected with tainted blood on December 31, 1985 and January 1, 1986?
The prime minister of the time could not answer that question and it cannot be answered today.
Young Joe Haché went on to say that tainted blood victims were all infected the same and they should all be treated the same. I could not agree more. I believe that the hon. members in this House will do the right thing this time and join me in supporting this motion to compensate all victims of tainted blood.
There comes a time when enough is enough. For hepatitis C victims, all of them, that time is now.