NDP, Conservatives question Liberal commitment to ending blood ban after it's left out of platform

The Liberals' longstanding promise to the LGBTQ2S community to eliminate the blood ban was absent from the 2021 election platform released on Wednesday, prompting the Conservatives and NDP to cast doubt on whether it remains a priority for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The Liberals have shot down this assertion, telling CTVNews.ca that the party remains “absolutely committed" to seeing the ban end.

While other LGBTQ2S commitments made the cut, the blood ban is not mentioned once. It’s been a fraught file for the Liberals since first campaigning off of the commitment to outright eliminate the policy in 2015, seeing the government fighting a Canadian Human Rights Commission inquiry over the ban and deflecting responsibility to Health Canada.

As the policy stands, Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec have donor screening policies that prohibit gay and bisexual men, as well as some other folks in the LGBTQ2S+ community, from donating blood unless they have been abstinent for at least three months.

In response to questions about why the policy was left out of the platform document, Liberal Party spokesperson Thierry Belair pointed to the Pride month pledge from Canadian Blood Services to bring forward an application to Health Canada by the end of 2021 to replace the ban with a sexual behaviour-based screening model for all donors.

“Work is ongoing and we are confident it will be completed soon,” Belair said.

While this means the end of the policy could be on the horizon, both the Conservatives and New Democrats—who state in their respective platforms intention to end the ban— seized on the absent commitment.

“After years of promising to end the discriminatory gay blood ban and failing to deliver – the Liberals have dropped the promise from their platform. This clearly shows that it was not a priority for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals,” said Conservative candidate Eric Duncan.

“Justin Trudeau promised to end the discriminatory blood ban in 2015 and 2019 — he even fundraised on the issue! People in the 2SLGBTQI+ community trusted him and voted for him believing that he would keep his promise…. People are feeling betrayed and disappointed. He never had any intention of doing it, if he did, gay men would be able to donate blood today,” said NDP candidate Brian Chang.

In a one-on-one interview with CTVNews.ca on the federal election trail on Aug. 19 Trudeau said that he hopes the ban will be eliminated in the “coming months,” though he also said back in 2020 that the policy change was coming “very soon.”

He said that when the Liberals were elected they “discovered” the data wasn’t there to support eliminating the ban and so the government funded research projects aimed at helping bolster the evidence-based decision-making process.

“We are hopefully going to be able to see it end in the coming months… And we are committed to making sure that it gets done,” said Trudeau. 

Between 2013 and 2019, Canada’s blood donation policy has changed three times, gradually evolving from a five-year ban on giving blood to the current three-month deferral period. The policy started in 1992 as an outright lifetime ban following the tainted blood scandal that played out in the 1980s and 1990s and saw thousands of Canadians infected with HIV after receiving donor blood.

The evolutions to the policy over the last several years were the result of Health Canada approving regulatory submissions from Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec, which included risk modelling showing it would be safe to do so. The federal health agency acts as the regulator for the two blood agencies, though they largely operate independently.

As has been the case for some time, every blood donation in Canada is tested for HIV. Under current testing capabilities, HIV can be detected in a “window period” of approximately nine days after infection, and advocates have suggested updated lifestyle-focused screening questions and eligibility would be determined based on that, rather than outright eliminating certain LGBTQ2S+ donors who are sexually active.