Tainted-Blood Scandal Victims. Two former Health Canada officials and a former senior member of the Canadian Red Cross could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of charges laid by the RCMP in connection with the tainted-blood scandal of the 1980s.
The RCMP announced the results of its five-year investigation yesterday by revealing that not only have those individuals been charged, but that charges have also been laid against the Canadian Red Cross Society, which was stripped by governments of its blood-collecting responsibilities in 1998 and now does other work.
As well, charges have been laid against Armour Pharmaceutical Co., a U.S. firm that produced blood products, and one of its former senior executives.
Tainted-blood victims applauded the announcement. In 1997, a federally commissioned inquiry led by Justice Horace Krever blasted a range of players, including the federal government, the provinces and the Red Cross for mistakes that left about 1,200 Canadians infected with blood-borne HIV and 10,000 to 20,000 contaminated with hepatitis C.
Mike McCarthy, who contracted hepatitis C from tainted blood, said the five-year criminal investigation was worth the wait.
“I know that I am certainly going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing the RCMP did their job. It validates the concerns of my family that knew my infection was not brought on by an act of God, but by a man-made decision that probably placed money over my safety.”
McCarthy said he has no problem with people serving the maximum jail time associated with the charges.
“I think of all the suffering that has taken place and all the lives that have been lost. If they have to go to jail for 10 years, so be it. I think the crimes justify that length of time in prison.”
Scott Hemming, 35, who also contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion, hopes the charges will stick and people will be held accountable. “I don’t want to see five years of investigation go down the drain with acquittals and probation,” he said.
John Furesz, 75, of Ottawa, the former director of the bureau of biologics at the federal government’s Health Protection Branch. Dr. Furesz is charged with three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of common nuisance by endangering the public. The maximum penalty for criminal negligence is 10 years, and two years for common nuisance.
Wark Boucher, 62, of Nepean, Ont., former chief of the blood products division of the bureau of biologics in the Health Protection Branch. He is charged with three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one of common nuisance by endangering the public.
The charges against Drs. Furesz and Boucher are in relation to an episode in the tainted-blood scandal known as the Armour incident. According to the Krever report, questions were raised in 1985 at Armour Pharmaceutical about whether its form of heat treatment was working well enough to kill the AIDS virus in blood products it developed for hemophiliacs.
Those concerns by a scientist were not immediately publicized by the company and although the questions did become public in later months, Health Canada did not order its recall until 1987. Thus, the RCMP allege doctors Furesz and Boucher did “by criminal negligence” permit Armour’s AIDS-contaminated blood products to be distributed.
Roger Perrault, 66, of Ottawa, the former director of the Canadian Red Cross Society’s blood transfusion service. He is charged with three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and seven counts of common nuisance by endangering the public.
The Canadian Red Cross Society is charged with six counts of common nuisance by endangering the public.
Dr. Perrault and the Red Cross also face charges for allegedly endangering the public by: failing to “discharge their duty to take reasonable measures to screen out those blood donors” who may have had AIDS; failing to use a new “test kit” available in the mid-1980s that detected the AIDS virus in blood; and failing to use a so-called “surrogate test” to detect hepatitis-C infected blood.
Armour, a company now based in Bridgewater, N.J., is charged with three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of common nuisance in connection with the distribution of its product. It also faces one count of failing to comply with the Food and Drugs Act.
The RCMP allege the company failed to notify Canada’s federal health regulators “immediately of a deficiency or alleged deficiency” in the process it used to kill the AIDS virus in its blood products.
Michael Rodell, 70, of Bala Cynwid, Penn., is the former vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs at Armour. He is charged with three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of common nuisance.
The Red Cross and Dr. Perrault are to appear in a Hamilton court on Dec. 10, while the other accused will be in a Toronto court on Dec. 11.