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Canadian Politicians To Be Charged Over Bad Blood

Canada's bad blood criminal probe has entered a new phase with former politicians now likely to be charged. The French charged former politicians with manslaughter. John Howard reports.

Between 1983 and 1987, tens of thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C from bad blood or blood products.

It's taken almost two years and cost more that C$2 million, but there are now signs that the pieces of one of the most complex puzzles ever handled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are beginning to fall into place.

The criminal probe into the tainted blood scandal begins a new phase as early as this week, with investigators hinting at more dramatic developments in the weeks ahead. Although the RCMP would not discuss a time frame, there now seems little doubt that charges will be laid in what has been described as one of Canada's greatest injustices.

The probe has taken the fourteen full-time investigators across Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Australia.

The investigating team includes police, medical and legal specialists and liaison officers who work with victims. They also have their own support staff.

They have interviewed more than 1,000 people and siezed more than 100,000 documents.

"We are moving at a more intense pace," said Inspector Rod Knecht, the lead investigator. "We have become very focused in our efforts and very clear in the direction we are heading. Something will be happening in the next couple of weeks," he said.

For Ontario hemophiliac Mike McCarthy and other victims, there is a sense that a long wait for justice might be coming to an end. "We have put our trust in the RCMP," McCarthy said. "We want them to get their man. It's extremely important for the memory of those victims, both living and dead."

Next week marks the second anniversary of the release of the report of the inquiry into the tainted blood scandal by Hon. Justice Horace Krever. In the wake of his report, the RCMP immediately pledged to inquire whether there was enough information for a criminal probe.

That inquiry was upgraded to a full-fledged investigation in February 1998.

About 1,000 Canadian hemophiliacs infected by bad blood or blood products, including the estates of those who have since died, have launched a C$1.1 billion lawsuit claiming the government negligently allowed it into the country.

"I was always taught that the buck stops with the political masters," said a Toronto man who holds key evidence and has twice been interviewed by the RCMP.

McCarthy, while saying no one wants a witch hunt, said many victims want to see the French experience repeated in Canada.

In France, former prime minister Laurent Fabius and former ministers Edmond Herve and Georgina Dufoix were charged with manslaughter in that country's tainted blood scandal. Only Herve was convicted.

New Zealand has also had a bad blood scandal but interest in that has waned and nobody seems to have been held accountable.

ends

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