The CBC television series on the tainted blood disaster comes at a time when a survey suggests 61 per cent of Canadians know little about what happened. (CBC)

Tainted blood scandal comes to life in tv series, book


In what has been called Canada’s worst-ever preventable public health disaster, thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through tainted blood transfusions in the 1980s and 90s. The public broadcaster, CBC, has produced an eight-part television series based on the newly-revised book called Bad Blood: The Unspeakable Truth, journalist Andre Picard’s Gift of Death: Confronting Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy and information from a public inquiry into the scandal.

Bad Blood was written by award-winning journalist Vic Parsons who’s own son was infected with HIV and hep C and is one of the few survivors.

Many factors contributed to disaster

There were many reasons for the scandal, noted Picard. Among them, was a failure to screen out high-risk donors, plasma was imported from U.S. prisons and from high-risk areas like San Francisco, safer products were not bought until the inventory of tainted products was used up, testing for the AIDS virus and for Hep C was delayed to save money and there was a failure to contact those who had received the tainted blood.

At least 2,000 blood recipients were infected with HIV. Another 30,000 got hep C. About 8,000 people are expected to die as a result of the transfusion of tainted blood. Some blood products were sent abroad infecting people in Japan, Germany and Britain.

Until recently, Canadians were not paid for blood donations. (iStock)

Renewed controversy over safety of blood supply

A public inquiry headed by Justice Horace Krever was called in Canada and lasted over four years. In 1997, he made several recommendations including one that all victims receive no-fault compensation. Governments refused and lengthy legal battles ensured. Some people have been compensated. Others have not.

The government created a new agency to handle blood systems called Canadian Blood Services. While it has produced a statement saying that Canadian blood is now safe, there is renewed controversy about the federal government’s decision to allow the purchase of blood donations. Traditionally Canadians have given blood on a purely volunteer basis and the Krever inquiry recommended donors not be paid. Three provinces have banned the practice of paying donors and several health professionals’ organizations say for-profit donation clinics should be banned across Canada.

(Optimum Publishing International)

The book Bad Blood has been revised and updated to include information about for-profit blood clinics.

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2 comments on “Tainted blood scandal comes to life in tv series, book
  1. Thousands of Canadians who had transfusions in the early 1980s were infected with preventable hepatitis. More than a thousand received blood products contaminated with HIV. More than half of those people have since died of AIDS. The first and the hardest hit were hemophiliacs and their families. The blood they depended on for a normal life proved to be an agent of their death. They were the red flag, (the canary in the coal
    Unspeakable, the TV Series
    mine) warning that something had gone horribly wrong. In Bad Blood; The Unspeakable Truth, Vic Parsons set his compelling analysis of the Canadian blood system while weaving in the tragic stories of loved ones long forgotten by the politicians and those charged to manage our blood product’s system.
    He writes with a terrible and personal authority: his hemophiliac son was infected with AIDS but continues to live with his family today in Vancouver. He is one of the lucky ones if we can use that phrase. Bad Blood raises many serious and disturbing questions. Did the blood authorities have the public’s best interests at heart, or were they more concerned with avoiding lawsuits? Will Justice Horace Krever’s inquiry into the scandal prevent future tragedies? Can there be just compensation for the victims and their families? And are Canadians still at risk with a system that has since been overhauled?
    Bad Blood, The Unspeakable Truth is fascinating reading for everyone involved in public health matters on either side of the Canadian/American border and quite frankly, around the globe. Since updated with new facts, stories and four brand new chapters Bad Blood, The Unspeakable Truth is the seminal book on a crisis that may have in part started in US state prisons, but ended up affecting the entire world.

    • Avatar Linda Bettle says:

      I have been watching the mini series Unspeakable and as a Canadian I had heard of the tainted blood scandal but never realized how bad it was and how none of those beauricated people never got charged with murder when they knew the blood was bad but never stopped it from being used. Our government is saying sorry to everyone that harm was done to them but I have never seen or heard anything for these poor people that got Tainted blood. This was a crime what went on and people got away with it. These men that did not want to stop this, I wish they or their family would of gotten infected and then would of like to see how fast they moved on this horror!