Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 303 and I thank my colleague for bringing it forward. I also wish to salute the hard work of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada and the Canadian Hemophilia Society in recommending the motion. They have done a lot of work to promote awareness of this disease and to support the victims of hepatitis C.
We all need to understand a little more about the disease and the problems that are caused because of it. I understand there was a conference in Montreal on hepatitis C this past spring with 72 speakers and 900 participants. That is a great example of federal-provincial co-operation coming together to bring awareness to this issue. I would like to congratulate the organizers of that conference and both levels of government for bringing together a conference to address the plight of those who are victimized by hepatitis C.
I remind the House of the individual who was in the gallery here last spring, Joey Haché. Joey, as a young boy of 12 or 14 years of age, was victimized by hepatitis C between the compensation years of 1986 to 1990. He was asking for compensation that was due to him after a three year plight of trying to get compensation. He brought awareness to his plight when he was here and before he got home that day there was a phone call that his settlement had come through. It is absolutely amazing that a government would work so slowly in this case.
There are many facts that need to be known about hepatitis C. We have talked about it many times in the House over the years. I will dismiss with going through some of the actual problems of hepatitis C because I think we all understand it needs further attention. The idea of an awareness month is something that would help in that vein.
We must help those who are living with this terrible disease on a daily basis and we must do whatever we can to prevent any further spread of it. It is worthwhile noting that hepatitis C is much easier to contract than HIV and that some of the strategies used to prevent HIV are not helping to reduce the rates of hepatitis C.
It is something that has been brought up in the health committee, which I vice chair. As deputy health critic I am concerned with prevention in this area, with the idea that we should do whatever we can to keep our blood in this country as safe as possible. The safety of our blood system is being challenged as we speak. We learned a lesson with what happened with hepatitis C and we dare not ignore it.
The idea of an awareness month is very important. The way the Liberal government dealt with hepatitis C and tainted blood has left a shameful legacy. The tainted blood scandal was a dark chapter in the nation's recent history. Thousands of victims contracted hepatitis C out of no fault of their own when they were most in need. They contracted this disease from a blood system that they were depending upon when they were ill and needed blood transfusions.
I have a problem with that situation because not only were they let down in their time of most desperate need, but when compensation finally came it was restricted to a four year period between 1986 and 1990. Many Canadians contracted hepatitis C through the blood system outside that four year period. Thousands of victims were let down by the federal government. Many who did qualify, like Joey Haché, had to wait years before they were compensated. That is a terrible legacy for the government.
Thankfully there were some bright spots. Some of the provincial governments rose to the occasion, such as Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. Again, there was co-operation among levels of government. They said they would compensate regardless and they had their own compensation programs. They are to be commended. However, many victims still continue to wait for justice.
The Canadian hepatitis C health consortium filed a class action complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the federal government and eight provinces. It claimed that victims infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood were treated differently from those with HIV-AIDS.
According to Vicky Boddy, the group's president, HIV-AIDS victims were receiving close to a quarter of a million dollars in compensation. Their drugs were covered and they could access disability insurance under the Canada pension plan, whereas victims of hepatitis C got very little compensation, if at all, and were denied drug coverage and disability pensions.
Boddy contracted hepatitis C through tainted blood when she received multiple transfusions in 1994. She says that everyone should be treated the same. There should not be a distinction when it comes to hepatitis C and HIV-AIDS. Both diseases are killers. She says that their stories are just as horrifying as the stories we hear from people with HIV-AIDS. The disease has changed many aspects of her life as she used to know it.
She noted that thousands of Canadians were dying from hepatitis C every year. The government still has an opportunity to partially right some of the wrongs it inflicted on some of those outside that four year period from 1986 to 1990.
It was brought out in the health committee that there is still a surplus of some $900 million in the federal-provincial compensation fund that was set aside to deal with this issue. The money was to be used to help those excluded from the plan. According to Mike McCarthy, a policy adviser to the Ontario health ministry:
The numbers reflect that they grossly overstated the numbers of victims that would qualify from 1986 to 1990 in the package and grossly overpredicted the number of people who were excluded.
What a gesture it would be if the federal government used the occasion of this motion to compensate all hepatitis C victims who were infected through tainted blood outside the four year period.
I reiterate my support for the motion. This gesture however will be tainted if it is not accompanied by actual deeds. Unless the government acts hon. members can be sure that we will use the opportunity of hepatitis awareness month each and every May because we are prepared to bring awareness to this issue every year.
I look forward to next spring if the motion is not agreed to. I will bring it forward each and every year and as long as it takes until the Liberal government gets on its knees and apologizes for the way it has treated hepatitis C victims who contracted the disease outside the four year period between 1986 and 1990. I appreciate the idea of having an awareness month. Justice needs to be served and we need to have the political will to make sure it happens.