After a tearful yet respectful debate Monday, July 9, Carleton University's student association (CUSA) voted 13 to 11 to retain a policy barring Canadian Blood Services (CBS) from hosting blood drives on property owned by CUSA.
The CUSA policy was implemented in 2003 as a response to CBS’s stance on not accepting blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). CBS does not currently accept blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977.
The concern is that blood infected with HIV in an undectable state will be donated and transfused to a recipient.
CBS also refuses donations based on what part of the world a donor has lived in, where a donor was born, and whether a donor has ingested certain types of medication.
The motion was brought forward by student council member Gina Parker, whose brother has been diagnosed with leukemia. Although she was pushing for a change to CUSA’s policy, Parker and all council members agreed that CBS’s policy is discriminatory.
Parker says that although the motion wasn’t passed she’s pleased with the opportunity she was given to discuss the contentious issue.
"I don't understand how you can agree that the practice is discriminatory and then advocate for that practice," Arun Smith says.
“I'm very happy with the discussion that was sparked as a result of the motion being brought forward,” she says.
“It's a tough topic and I'm glad that the past couple days have led it to get the attention it deserves.”
Parker went on to say she believes it is in the best interest of CUSA and all students to come together and make both goals mutually beneficial, rather than mutually exclusive.
A similar ban on blood donations from MSM has been lifted in Britain, yet CBS and its Québécois counterpart, Hèma-Quebec, have committed only to a review of this ban.
CBS’s review recommends that lifetime limitations on donations from MSM be lifted and that instead a deferral period be adopted to allow men to give blood if the date of their last MSM encounter was at least five or 10 years from the date of donation. CBS must now await a ruling by its regulator, Health Canada.
Several other countries, including Japan and Australia, have implemented deferral periods.
, campus coordinator for the Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia Campaign, says he is thrilled the CUSA vote was in favour of upholding the policy against CBS, although the review recommendation CBS has put forward is still homophobic in nature.
“It simply says that CBS is continuing to operate under this HIV stigma and is now blatantly just discriminating based on sexual orientation,” Smith says.
Ron Vezina, spokesperson for CBS, says the practice is not discriminatory and points to an Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in 2010 where the judge ruled in favour of the ban on blood donations from MSM.
“The judge said it’s not a discriminatory practice. It’s based on science, risk and evidence,” Vezina says. “However, she did say that a lifetime deferral is probably a little excessive, and our organization agreed with the judge’s ruling. Based on that evidence our board moved to make a change.”
The ruling by Health Canada on whether the ban will be downgraded to a deferral is expected to be delivered by the end of this year.
While Vezina eagerly awaits Health Canada's rulling, he maintains CBS’s duty is to all Canadians who are in need of blood.
“Our organization is there to make sure that everyone who needs blood -- regardless of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation -- anyone in Canada who needs blood gets it.”
According to Olivia Caron, media relations officer with Health Canada, submissions for changes to the long-standing ban CBS wishes to make must contain scientific data from studies that support the safety of any proposed changes.
"As the regulator of Canada's blood system, Health Canada will regard the risks and benefits of any proposed changes to blood operations as the paramount consideration to granting approval," Caron wrote.