THE TAINTED BLOOD TRAGEDY – The Canadian Hemophilia Society, remembering the past… vigilant for the future

First, on behalf of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, I want to say “thank you” to CBS for hearing us and for supporting our idea to commemorate Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy.

Today, we are planting the very first tree in what we hope will become a small memorial forest, stretching across the entire country.
This tree is a powerful symbol.

Those who see it in this public place will recognize it as a symbol of hope. Hope for those Canadians living with HIV and hepatitis C. And hope for those needing a blood transfusion.

Those who pass by it on their way into work at CBS will be reminded of the vital work they do each and every day, and of the trust Canadians place in them to keep our blood system safe and secure.

Those who pause long enough to take comfort in the shade of this tree will have new hope of a future free of the pain and suffering of a bleeding disorder.

Those who admire the strength and beauty of this tree will know that we now have a good blood system—perhaps the best in the whole world. This is evident in the release of our 2007 Report Card on Canada’s Blood System, with excellent marks for a high priority on safety and supply.

This tree will not flourish and grow on its own. The Canadian Hemophilia Society and Canadian Blood Services will continue to work together to nourish and protect this tree, symbolizing our promise and commitment to be ever vigilant so that this tragedy can never, never happen again.

But remember—this is only the first tree of a whole forest. The CHS is working with the federal government to designate October 27 as the annual day for the National Commemoration of Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy. Hundreds of other trees will be planted in fields, on farms, in gardens, beside rivers and in backyards. Trees will be planted in very quiet, very private ways by individuals, families and friends who have lost loved ones. Each one of these trees will remind Canadians of the thousands who died as a result of the tragedy. And each tree will give us new hope.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the many members of the Canadian Hemophilia Society who have joined us today along with their very personal memories and a new hope.

Thank you.

– Pam Wilton, Canadian Hemophilia Society


Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to be here this afternoon, as Chairperson of the Commemorative Day Committee for the Canadian Hemophilia Society, to see the first tree planted in honour  and memory of the victims who have died as a result of the Tainted Blood Tragedy. The Tainted Blood Tragedy was undisputedly, the worst public health disaster that Canada has ever faced.

It is indeed wonderful to see so many familiar faces and friends from our past. For me, this is a bittersweet reunion: Bitter, because we know that too many have needlessly lost their lives to the disease known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS); but sweet, because for those of us who have been affected by the Tainted Blood Tragedy, this tree and many others like it across Canada, will become what we hope is a nationwide tribute, and a public testimonial by which we will remember those silent victims, those many individuals who have lost their courageous battle with this disease.  I stand here today to honour the far too many friends and colleagues I have lost, those whose lives were full of vitality, and energy and promise.

In the early 80’s – close to 25 years ago, Canadians began hearing about the deaths of individuals from a disease that would soon have a devastating impact on the lives of several hundred people, and become known as a monumental tragedy. No one at that time could predict the full extent of what lay ahead. Research began to point towards an infection that was blood borne, and was transmitted through blood transfusions or, as we later learned, through infusions of the very product that promised hope for those who had inherited hemophilia, a bleeding disorder affecting primarily the male population.

The treatment for those who had been affected by hemophilia was infusing a clotting factor that had been derived from whole blood. And so the product that had provided hope for a life of normalcy, was the very one that shattered so many dreams. We felt a deep sense of betrayal by those who had been appointed to manage the blood system, having placed our trust in them to provide us with important, effective, and life saving products.

Never before, has there been a medical catastrophe of this magnitude. Through the ensuing years, we have lost sons, and husbands, and fathers, and yes, we lost daughters, and wives, and mothers. Because not only was the hemophilia community affected, so were other Canadians who had received blood transfusions as a result of other reasons that included child birth, trauma, cancer, or surgery. We later learned that thousands more were infected with the Hepatitis C virus through blood and blood products before testing was introduced in 1990. Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, I’d like to acknowledge the presence of Mr. Jeremy Beatty, who represented the large group of individuals affected by Hepatitis C. Thank you Mr. Beatty for all your work on their behalf, and for being here this afternoon.

As leaders of the Canadian Hemophilia Society in the 80’s, we tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation that was about to become a reality. Day after day, month after month, and year after year, we learned about our friends, our colleagues, and our family members who had been infected and were dying.  But in spite of the best efforts of our medical community, they could not be saved. None the less, we set out to direct our energies into positive solutions. As a result of the efforts of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, in 1993, the federal government announced an inquiry into the blood system, and appointed then Justice Mr. Horace Krever to head the Commission. Mr. Krever spent four years investigating the events that contributed to this tainted blood tragedy, and it is Mr. Krever’s work that brought this tragedy into the public eye. It is indeed fitting that today, 10 years after his final report was tabled we gather to continue and support the healing process.

Each of us is carrying on with our lives, living with the uncertainty that this disease has inflicted on us. We continue our work with our partners – the Federal and Provincial Governments, and the Canadian Blood Services, and Hema Quebec to ensure a safer blood system in Canada.

We will be requesting that the Federal Government designate an Annual Commemorative day in honour of those who have died as a result of the Tainted Blood Tragedy. In addition, we will be making a plea to the National Capital Commission, that they plant a tree in Ottawa, and erect a plaque or monument to commemorate the Blood Tragedy. At this time, I’d like to thank the Canadian Blood Services for endorsing this important project, and for planting the first tree on their property. Hema Quebec has also agreed to participate in this initiative. We extend our sincere thanks to them for their support. Each family that has been affected by this tragedy will also be invited to recognize this tragedy in their own way. Our goal is to see a Forest of Commemorative Trees growing across Canada.

Our work is not over. We will continue to be the voices for those who can no longer speak. We not let their pain and suffering and that of their families be in vain. Even though their voices may be silent, their spirit and their memories will live on through this soaring symbol of strength.

Thank you all for your participation in this event.
– Elaine Woloschuk, Chairperson of the Organizing Committee for the Commemoration of the Tainted Blood Tragedy

Photo of the tree which is alive and well — taken mid-June 2014.