Canada sperm donation restrictions for gay men challenged
A gay man is taking the federal government to court, challenging the constitutionality of a policy restricting gay and bisexual men from donating to sperm banks in Canada, CTV News has learned.
“[It’s] like you’re undesirable because of your gayness as a donor … It feels like such an arbitrary rule,” said Aziz M, the man who is pushing to change the rules. Out of concern for his privacy, CTV News has agreed not to use his full name.
Currently, a Health Canada directive prohibits gay and bisexual men from donating sperm to a sperm bank unless they’ve been abstinent for three months or are donating to someone they know.
For example, it stops any gay man who is sexually active from donating, even if they are in a long-term monogamous relationship.
Under the “Safety of Sperm and Ova Regulation,” sperm banks operating in Canada must deem these prospective donors “unsuitable,” despite all donations being subject to screening, testing and a six-month quarantine before they can be used.
“Why I decided to take this to court is because of that feeling of discrimination,” said Aziz.
Aziz and his lawyers are challenging the directive—filed with the Superior Court of Ontario in January—on the basis that it violates the right to equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This case is seeking to strike out the provision in the policy that specifically applies to men who have sex with men, according to the application commencing litigation.
The case has caught the attention and has the financial backing of Canada’s Court Challenges Program, an independent organization that supports individuals bringing cases related to constitutional rights that are of national significance.
The filing alleges that the current policy “perpetuates stereotypical attitudes and prejudices against gay and bisexual men, including false assumptions about their health, their sexual practices, and their worthiness to participate in child conception.”
While the directive does not mention transgender or non-binary donors, the policy also applies to individuals who may not identify as male but would be categorized as men under the directive.
In an interview with CTV News, Gregory Ko, co-council on the case, said the policy goes to the heart of the many barriers that exists for LGBTQ2S+ Canadians looking to have children.
“It is not uncommon for a lot of gay and lesbian couples to rely on sperm donors within the community, and this directive explicitly puts a barrier, in addition to all the other barriers that exist for queer families, in having children,” Ko said.
MAN FIGHTING POLICY HAS DONATED BEFORE
Aziz M., the man who is taking the federal government to court. Out of concern for his privacy, CTV News has agreed not to use his full name.
In Canada, there are two streams for sperm donation. One involves sperm donations made to a sperm bank for general use, which is considered the “regular process.”
The other is known as the “direct donation process” and involves sperm donations between a donor to a recipient who are known to one another. In these cases, sexually active gay and bisexual men can donate so long as the recipient signs a waiver.
This case focuses on the first stream.
Aziz is uniquely positioned in bringing this constitutional challenge, as prior to coming out as a gay man, he donated to a sperm bank in Toronto several times between 2014 and 2015 without issue.
After undergoing the rigorous screening and testing that donors in Canada are subject to under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which includes pre- and post-donation infectious disease testing, his sperm was made available to the public.
As a result, a lesbian couple was able to have a daughter, whose life Aziz now plays a role in.
“We go out [to] museums and parks, and we play. There’s a lot of joy, a lot of meaning in it,” he said. “We’re kind of navigating this … family-like relationship, and what do we call each other?”
Because he found this past donation a meaningful experience, he encouraged his friends to donate, only to realize that their donations wouldn’t be accepted.
“It made them feel bad, and it made me feel embarrassed as well,” he said.
Aziz said his motivation in bringing this case is that he wants to be able to donate again, a desire compounded by his awareness of this country’s donor shortage.
“I would be really happy and honoured if this makes things move along and … makes people recognize the equality between … everybody, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” he said.
MINISTER HAS POWER TO CHANGE: LAWYER
Gregory Ko, co-council on the case and partner with Kastner Lam LLP. (CTV News)
The lawsuit argues that the federal health minister has the power to issue a directive to change the policy as it applies to men who have sex with men, just as the Liberal government did a few years ago.
The government brought forward the current policy in 2019—requiring gay and bisexual men to observe a three-month deferral period before being able to donate—and it came into effect in February 2020.
This change was a marked update from what had been a lifetime ban dating back decades stemming from concerns over HIV transmission.
“Our view is that the minister of health has discretion to amend this directive. It is a directive that comes from the minister’s office and from the ministry of health itself. And so, barring some internal processes, our view is that this is a policy that can be amended swiftly,” Ko said.
Ko, who is a partner at law firm Kastner Lam LLP and previously was involved in a case challenging the now-eliminated federal blood ban, says the sperm donation policy echoes the language used by Health Canada that long prohibited men who have sex with men from donating blood.
After years of successive updates, in April 2022 Health Canada approved the Canadian Blood Services submission to eradicate what was then a three-month deferral period. This allowed the national blood donation organization to begin using a behaviour-based screening system for all donors, where risk factors are screened on an individual basis, regardless of gender or sexuality.
This new policy came into effect across most of the country in September 2022, and Hema-Quebec followed suit in December 2022.
‘INDEFENSIBLE BASED ON THE STATE OF THE SCIENCE’
What is different about sperm donation, Ko says, is that there is no third party, such as Canadian Blood Services, involved that the federal government could point to and say that it has limited authority to rescind the policy or intervene. That was an approach the Liberals took during the blood donation saga.
“We sincerely believe that the courts will agree that this is a clear breach of the right to equality and is an indefensible based on the state of the science,” Ko said.
President of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society Dr. Sony Sierra says that while the risk of transmission is “very small” given the screening and universal precautions in place, a risk still exists.
“It can be taken as stigmatizing. It is, but we have to also understand that our concern also involves the intended recipient, and therefore that intended recipient needs to be cared for and counselled regarding all risk. And that’s our intention in practicing in accordance with these guidelines,” Sierra said. “As our science improves with respect to transmission and actual risk as opposed to theoretical risk, I would hope that those guidelines become even more inclusive.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government faced considerable pressure from the LGBTQ2S+ community after pledging for years to end the blood ban. When it was lifted, he cheered the end of what he said was a “discriminatory and wrong” policy.
The New Democrats say the federal government has failed to follow up on the lifting of the blood ban with similar changes to the regulations for sperm donation.
“There’s never been any science behind the ban on gay men donating sperm, none whatsoever … People tell me they’re working on it, but they’ve been telling me they’ve been working on this for over five years,” said NDP MP Randall Garrison, the party’s critic for justice and LGBTQ2S+ rights.
“It’s this case in the queer community that we’ve always had to fight for our rights. We’ve never had anything handed to us on a platter,” Garrison said. “It’s just disappointing at this day and age that the government doesn’t recognize their need to act.”
Asked to respond to the court challenge, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos declined to comment. Justice Minister David Lametti’s office directed CTV News to the justice department, which directed questions to Health Canada.
In a statement to CTV News, the federal health agency said that it is committed to non-discriminatory policies, pointing to the direct donation process it said was ” specifically created” with the LGTBQ2S+ community in mind.
Tammy Jarbeau, senior media relations adviser for Health Canada, told CTV News that the purpose of the restrictions are to “reduce the risks to human health and safety,” and that that the current sperm donor screening criteria was informed by the available scientific and epidemiological data, as well as national standards.
Health Canada said it will look to ensure the regulations continue to reflect the latest advances in science and technology, and given the recent changes to the screening criteria for blood donors, it “will explore whether similar updates may be appropriate” in the context of sperm donation.
“Health Canada is aware that an application has been filed… and is currently reviewing the application,” said Jarbeau, adding that the agency’s response will “be provided in the course of the litigation. We cannot comment further at this time.”
With files from CTV National News producer Rachel Hanes
They were turned away at the Canadian border. Now what? – CBC.ca
Toddlers ran through aisles filled with snacks and candies. Adults slumped in chairs. Multiple cellphones were plugged into a single wall socket. Backpacks and suitcases were scattered among the two rows of tables in a corner of this small-town bus stop and gas station.
After they were turned away at the Canadian border and spent three days in detention, the roughly 15 asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart No. 109 in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., south of Montreal, on Tuesday afternoon were trying to figure out what to do.
They had tried to get into the country at the popular unofficial crossing on Roxham Road in the hours after a new border deal between Canada and the U.S. came into effect late last week.
Alan Rivas, a Peruvian man who was hoping to reunite with his girlfriend who’s been living in Montreal for two years, said he’d spent $4,000 on making it this far.
“I’m trying to think about what to do now.”
A sense of solidarity emerged as people recognized each other from various parts of their time stuck on the border, along with a sense of resignation and deep disappointment.
“Disappointing and heartbreaking,” said a man from Central Africa, whom CBC agreed not to identify because he fears it could affect his asylum claim process in the United States.
He had shared a cab ride with a man from Chad, who fled to the U.S. after the government of his country led a violent crackdown on opponents last fall.
“It’s unfair. We are not home and we suffer. We’re looking for a better life,” the man from Central Africa said.
The man from Chad looked up and said: “No, looking for protection is not having a better life. I had a life.”
The Chadian was not let into Canada despite his wife and child being Canadian citizens, he said. Having a family member with legal status in Canada is one of the few exemptions to the strict new rules that make it nearly impossible to claim asylum at the Canada-U.S. border. His wife and child fled to a nearby country after the crackdown in Chad, but he explained that his wife’s family is still in Canada.
Other exemptions include being an unaccompanied minor and having a work permit or other official document allowing a person to be in Canada.
“They made me sign a paper without giving me time to read it. They didn’t explain anything,” said the man, whom CBC also agreed not to name because he fears for his family’s safety in an African country near Chad.
The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented swiftly before the weekend, leaving local governments and organizations little time to respond and turned-away asylum seekers struggling to find food, shelter and rides.
The man from Central Africa was trying to round up enough money to pay for a $200 bus ticket to Houston, where he would stay with a friend. The man from Chad gave him the $40 he was missing.
The Central African said he had spent his savings on coming to Canada. His hope was to live here until obtaining residency, and then arranging for his family to come to meet him.
“I know a guy in Houston who hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. He still doesn’t have status,” he said.
A young Haitian mother cradled her baby as her toddler made friends with another child. Her family had paid an acquaintance in New Jersey $300 per adult to get to Roxham Road before midnight Friday, but the driver got lost and they arrived at 12:03 a.m.
Steven, a 24-year-old Venezuelan who attempted to cross into Canada at Roxham early Saturday morning, mingled with the people he’d met in detention. Then he tried to call his mom.
“She doesn’t know,” said Steven, who didn’t want his last name used in this story because of fears it could affect his U.S. asylum claim. “I know I seem happy but I am sad.”
Carmen Salazar, 45, also from Venezuela, watched him from another table.
“It’s hard, really hard,” she said.
The group of asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart had found comfort in finding each other. They all boarded a bus leaving Plattsburgh at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Its main destination was New York City.
Others haven’t been so lucky finding a way out of Plattsburgh.
The night before, a woman who was seen at Roxham Road early Saturday, sat alone at the bus stop crying.
3 nights in a motel and no plan
Across the street, in a small motel, a 34-year-old Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend had one night left out of three that had been paid for by local emergency housing services. But they had no plan and only $41 to their name.
“We’re here. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look for ways to be able to live. What I’m looking for — nothing more — is a place to rest and a place to work. Nothing else,” said the man, sitting in the lobby of the motel. CBC is not naming him because of fears it could affect his American asylum claim.
The couple had intended to stay in the U.S. after crossing the Mexican border, but the woman became pregnant and developed constant pains. In the U.S., they had to stay with separate family members far from each other and the man worried about his wife and being able to afford medical bills, so they decided to try to get to Canada, having heard it was easier to find work and that health-care was more affordable, he said.
In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, a man from another Central African country struggled to hold back tears.
He said the confusion after being taken in at Roxham Road by RCMP officers was hurtful because it wasn’t clear if he’d be accepted into Canada or not. When they called his name, he was filled with hope, only to be told he was being sent to U.S. Border Patrol.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have anyone who will take me in,” he said.
The response from U.S. Border Patrol appears to be uneven. Some asylum seekers CBC spoke with had taxis called for them, having to pay another $70 to get to the Mountain Mart. One woman was found on the side of the service road by the border and given a ride by a social science researcher and documentary photographer met by CBC.
The man interviewed by Radio-Canada was part of a group who were given a ride to the gas station by a Greyhound bus heading back to New York from Montreal.
CBC reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday, asking what happens to asylum seekers rejected by Canada, but did not receive a response.
Although in favour of some kind of change to reduce traffic at Roxham Road, one local official wants help from the federal governments to deal with the fallout.
Michael Cashman, supervisor for the Town of Plattsburgh, says Canada and the U.S. to come up with a response to help asylum seekers get to where they want to go in the U.S.
He isn’t against the move to restrict access to Canada at Roxham Road.
“There had to be a change,” he said, noting residents had been asking for one, but compared the way it was done to turning off a light switch before entering a room: “You’re going to bump into some furniture.”
The area is rural and has its share of struggles with transportation and housing, Cashman said.
“There isn’t a robust infrastructure to be able to take on this humanitarian crisis as it develops.”
On Monday and Tuesday, buses coming from New York carried only a few asylum seekers hoping to cross the border. Most knew about the new rules, believing their cases would fit some of the exemptions. Others still did not know.
By Tuesday, cab drivers were no longer ferrying people to Roxham Road, taking them to the official border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., and Lacolle, Que., instead.
What is the grocery rebate in federal budget 2023? Key questions, answered
Canada’s economy might be recovering from the pandemic, but many Canadians are still struggling with the cost of living, thanks, in part, to the impacts of global inflation.
To help offset rising living expenses, the Government of Canada has built some benefit increases and fee reductions into its 2023 budget. Among these measures is a new grocery rebate in the form of a one-time payment for middle- and low-income Canadians that is designed to offset food inflation.
“Our more vulnerable friends and neighbours are still suffering from higher prices,” Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said after tabling the budget on March 28. “That’s why our budget contains targeted, temporary relief from the effects of inflation for those who need it.”
Here’s what we know about the rebate.
HOW WILL THE GROCERY REBATE WORK?
According to the budget, the benefit will be rolled out through the GST/HST rebate system, once a bill implementing it passes in the House of Commons. This move essentially re-ups and re-brands the recent GST rebate boost.
While no specific date for the payments has been announced, upcoming GST/HST credit payment dates for 2023 include April 5, July 5 and Oct. 5. Because the rebate is automatically rolled into the GST/HST credit, eligible Canadians shouldn’t need to do anything besides file their tax return in order to receive the payment.
WHO GETS THE GROCERY REBATE IN CANADA?
The Grocery Rebate is earmarked for 11 million low- to modest-income Canadians. It will provide eligible couples with two children with up to $467, single Canadians without children with up to $234 and seniors with $225 on average.
The budget doesn’t pinpoint any eligibility brackets based on income, but outlines hypothetical scenarios where a couple earning $38,000 per year and an individual earning $32,000 both received the maximum rebate.
Since the rebate will be rolled into the GST/HST credit, the eligibility criteria for that credit might offer some insight into who will be eligible for the maximum Grocery Rebate amounts.
The GST benefit is reduced as income rises. It’s phased out entirely once income reaches just over $49,000 for a single person, $50,000 for a couple without children and more than $60,000 for a couple with four children.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO FEED A FAMILY OF 4 IN CANADA?
The average family of four will spend up to $16,288.41 on food this year, according to the latest Canada’s Food Price Report, published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
“For a family of four, their food bill will increase by about $1,100 this year,” the lab’s director, Sylvain Charlebois, told CTV News Calgary on Tuesday.
The cost of staple grocery items based on March 2023 prices listed on Fortinos.ca. (CTV’s Your Morning)
The most substantial increases will be in the cost of vegetables, dairy and meat, according to the report. Food inflation has softened somewhat in recent weeks, Charlebois said, but even with that softening and the extra cash in their pockets from the grocery rebate, Canadians aren’t out of the woods yet.
“We are expecting things to be a little more manageable for households probably in the summer, (but) not before then,” he said. “We are expecting to finish the year with a food inflation rate of about four to five per cent. It’s still high, but it’s better than 10 per cent.”
HOW CAN I SAVE MONEY ON GROCERIES IN CANADA?
As finance commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid pointed out during an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, a maximum grocery rebate of $467 for a family of four doesn’t even offset half of the additional $1,100 families can expect to spend on groceries in 2023.
“It’s a small amount that will help a family of four,” she said. “But, is it enough? No, it’s not, we’ve got to get inflation down.”
With their spending power significantly weakened, a growing number of consumers are looking for new ways to save on their grocery bills.
According to a March 22 report published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Angus Reid, some of the methods Canadians are using to save money at the grocery store include reading weekly flyers, using coupons, taking advantage of volume discounting and using food rescue apps such as Too Good To Go and the Second Harvest Food Rescue App.
– With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello
International selling Pop Reggae artist, D Howell Drops New Single “Man Dem”
By way of Spanish Town
Toronto, On – International selling Pop/ Reggae artist, D Howell drops his new single, “Man Dem “available now, on all major music platforms. The release featuring Ding Dong & Nicky B follows a long list of hit music from the talented pop-reggae artist. Howell’s single, ’Wine Bounce” with Jamaican born reggae artist Dominant ft. Nick B was picked up by Universal Music, solidifying Howell’s career with the likes of Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Sarani. The artist contributes his Jamaican roots to the success of his brand. Keeping his early beginnings in Spanish Town, Jamacia close to his heart, “Man Dem” (meaning multiple men) was created. The single is inspired by the multicultural people of Toronto with special consideration to the immigrants from Jamaica. Their specific style of talking is heard on every street corner in Toronto. The new generation have made it their own, a way of bringing and keeping their heritage alive. Howell’s music speaks to that, making the heritage & the music one. The highly anticipated release of “Man Dem” will take you home to Spanish Town.
DJ, producer and artist, D Howell knows what it takes to make hit singles. It’s not just talent that makes a single a hit, but the chemistry & respect for your fellow artists. Knowing what works and what doesn’t between artists is key. Mixing different instruments, sounds and styles to create his always evolving pop reggae sound has made Howell an in-demand producer and artist. From the super hit ‘Jumanji’ to a lineup of multi-selling collaborations featuring his unique reggae influence, Howell makes it work. Collaborations with Karl Wolf (“Fall in Love”), Danny Fernandes (“Party”) and the man himself, Sean Paul (“Time to Party”). Howell writes for and brings together a wide range of artists from different genres into his studio to create a combination of sounds that works on the music charts today. D Howell brings the love, nurture & music of his early beginnings to his seat at the industry table. “Man Dem” takes you on that journey…
Listen to Man Dem”
Follow D Howell:
Sasha Stoltz Publicity:
Sasha Stoltz | Sasha@sashastoltzpublicity.com | 416.579.4804
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