The Hamilton Spectator
Saturday, January 25, 1997

Blood records destroyed deliberately, Grace says

Commissioner says public rights thwarted

OTTAWA (CP) -- Canadian Blood Committee records were destroyed in 1989 to thwart the public right to information, Information Commissioner John Grace said in a report released yesterday.

The now-defunct committee ran the blood system during the 1980s when thousands of Canadians became infected with HIV and hepatitis C. The contamination of the blood supply sparked the Krever inquiry.

In a letter to federal Health Minister David Dingwall, Mr. Grace said destroying the records violated the Information Act and was a "flagrant affront to the will of Parliament".

In his report, Mr. Grace slammed former Health Department official Jo Hauser for recommending that tape recordings and verbatim transcripts of committee discussions be destroyed.

The report rejects a Health Department claim that the records were innocently erased or tossed out for house-keeping purposes.

It says tapes and transcripts were destroyed 15 days after the committee received a formal access-to-information request for the material.

The records were scuttled "for the purpose of ensuring that the records did not become subject to the right of access", said Mr. Grace.

The Canadian Blood Committee, comprised of representatives from federal and provincial health departments, set policy for the blood system and provided financing for the Red Cross blood program. It was disbanded in 1991 in the aftermath of the blood crisis. It was formed in 1981.

Critics have alleged that the committee delayed initiatives to make the blood system safer because it wanted to hold costs down.

The missing records covered discussions of key decisions during the 1980s.

Its not exactly clear what was in the records, but minutes from the May 1989 meeting suggested they contained sensitive information. The issue of the missing records was raised at the Krever inquiry in September 1995.

Mr. Grace also criticized another senior Health Department official, David Beavis, who was consulted about the records. Mr. Grace said he failed to provide guidance and leadership.

Mr. Grace's report also complained that it took eight months for the Health Department to provide key documents to the Krever inquiry, and said there will be further investigation into the reasons for the delay.

The commission said it was too bad the Access to Information Act does not provide penalties for officials who flout the law.

He said Hauser is no longer employed by the Health Department and thus cannot be held to account for his actions.

The report said there is a pressing need for central control over department records, and that senior department employees should be educated about the requirements of the access law.

Copyright © 1997 by Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.