Pubdate: Mon, 13 Dec 1999
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star
Author: Tim Harper, Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau


Man Denied Money Over `Adolescent Indiscretion' With Intravenous Drug

OTTAWA - It was 1969, during a lazy Labour Day weekend at an all-night
Guelph drive-in, that 13-year-old Rob Guild made a mistake.

Thirty years later, he might have made another. The Ontario government is
making him pay for both.

Guild has hepatitis C. He contracted it, according to his doctor and to
himself, from tainted, transfused blood he received from five different
unknown donors following a life-threatening traffic accident in 1973 when he
was 17.

But when he applied for government compensation under an Ontario plan, he
admitted to his adolescent indiscretion - a one-time experiment with
intravenous drugs when he and his buddies did hits of methamphetamines in
the late-summer torpor of a small town more than a generation ago.

That was enough for the Ontario Tories to cut Guild out of their hepatitis C
compensation plan.

Now the 43-year-old divorced father is fighting back. He is taking Queen's
Park to the Human Rights Commission, charging he is being denied rightful
compensation and was victimized by a bureaucracy that tried to wait him out
in hopes he would go away.

Guild is the first Ontarian to take on the government over a compensation
rejection, but legal sources say there are others in similar circumstances
and they believe there will be more such cases.

``It was a combination of peer pressure, being a teenager, maybe hormones,''
Guild says, in explaining his drug experimentation.

His lawyer, Peter McSherry, paraphrases U.S. presidential candidate George
W. Bush to explain his client's 30-year-old actions.

``As George Bush said, `When I was young and stupid, I was young and
stupid,' '' McSherry said.

Guild's second mistake may have been acknowledging the drug use in his
attempt to join almost 2,000 other people in this province who have been
compensated because they were infected with the sometimes fatal disease
through tainted blood or blood products.

``It was an honest attempt to track down the source of my hepatitis C,'' he
said. ``I had to be honest with my doctor, so I thought I should be honest
with the government.

``I knew it wasn't the cause of my disease, so I didn't think it would get
this heavy duty. But sometimes being honest doesn't work. It's like
sometimes when you told the truth when you were a kid and ended up getting

The case has also touched off debate among tainted-blood victims who fought
long and hard for redress for their numbers, yet recoiled at any public
suggestion that drug addicts could be counted among those receiving

So far, some 1,850 Ontarians have received cheques of $10,000 each under a
Queen's Park plan to compensate those unfairly infected with hepatitis C
before Jan. 1, 1986, and after July 1, 1990.

Premier Mike Harris, who was widely praised for establishing the first
provincial compensation plan, has publicly stated he wanted to help innocent
victims, not drug users.

During the long struggle for hepatitis C victims on Parliament Hill, Prime
Minister Jean Chretien offended many of those living with the debilitating
disease when he wondered aloud whether his government should be using
taxpayers' money to help drug users.

In the Nov. 10 rejection letter from the Ontario Hepatitis C Assistance Plan
(OHCAP), the Ontario government acknowledges that Guild's drug use was the
reason he was denied compensation. He received the answer 10 months after
his initial application.

``Information in your file indicates you have taken non-prescription drugs
intravenously (by means of injection),'' program adjudicator Mary Lou Gignac
told him.

``Medical and scientific research indicates very clearly that intravenous
drug use brings with it a very high risk of exposure to body fluids of
others and, therefore, a very high risk of contracting hepatitis C.

``In fact, medical experts estimate the risk of contracting hepatitis C
through intravenous drug use is 10 to 50 times greater than the risk of
contracting the infection through a blood transfusion or administration of
blood products.''

Gignac declined to discuss the case with The Star, citing privacy concerns.

McSherry said he was in no position to quarrel with the probability
statistics quoted by the government.

But significantly, Guild maintains he never shared a needle, a factor most
often cited in the high infection risk for intravenous drug users.

McSherry said the government used the admission of drug use as a reason to
close Guild's file without pursuing the more legitimate claim that he became
infected after receiving blood from five different donors at St. Joseph's
Hospital in Guelph on June 28, July 1 and July 2, 1973.

Those donors could not be traced, but that is not unusual. Hospital
record-keeping across the country in the 1970s made it virtually impossible
to track blood donors.

Guild, who suffers from manic depression as well as hepatitis C, is jobless
and is being supported by his family in his challenge to the government. He
filed his complaint last week and it could take a year before it is heard.
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