When David McKinnon learned that the blood transfusion he received during surgery as a young man had infected him with hepatitis C, he began the process of applying for compensation from the federal government.
Mr. McKinnon, who was among the thousands of victims of one of the most tragic health scandals in Canadian history, wanted to ensure that his wife, Elizabeth, and their six children were cared for.
He passed away in 2010 at the age of 50, four weeks after tumours on his liver related to the disease surfaced for a second time. But his widow is still waiting for the money that was promised by the government.
"We spent all kinds of money and time to get all of the documentation that was required for the file to be accepted. It took probably two years," Elizabeth McKinnon said in a telephone interview from her home on Vancouver Island on Thursday. "And there has been nothing but 'we have to wait for this court hearing and that judgment.'"
The McKinnons are among the victims, and families of victims, who are entitled to a share of the compensation package that was offered by the federal government in 2007 because of the inadequate safeguards that had been placed on the Canadian blood supply. But because the billion-dollar fund for those who were infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) through tainted blood before 1986 or after 1990 has run dry, more than 300 claims have gone unpaid.
There is another pot of cash for people who contracted HCV between 1986 and 1990, which has an estimated surplus of $240-million. Health Minister Jane Philpott has been repeatedly asked by claimants, their lawyers and backbench MPs to transfer part of the surplus to the empty fund so victims such as Ms. McKinnon and her children can get what they are owed.
But the Liberal government has so far refused to entertain the idea. And Justice Department lawyers will be in court next week to argue that any excess in the 1986-to-1990 fund should be returned to federal coffers.
Ms. McKinnon and her MP, New Democrat Alastair MacGregor, are among those who have written to Dr. Philpott to ask for the empty fund to be topped up with the estimated $60-million that is required to pay the remaining claimants.
"The Health Minister wrote back a very nice letter to say she was sorry to hear that we were in this situation, but basically she was not going to support or advocate for us that the funds be transferred. She felt it was out of her jurisdiction to do that," Ms. McKinnon said. "The money is there. Should it not go to those deserving families and people?"
When asked this week about the unpaid claims, Dr. Philpott's spokesman wrote, "The courts have the jurisdiction to make decisions regarding the sufficiency of the funds and the allocation of any surplus within the parameters set out in each settlement agreement, but, they do not have the authority to order a transfer between agreements."
That is of little solace to Cynthia Carter of Victoria, who was diagnosed with hepatitis C last year after contracting the disease during a blood transfusion in 1982. As with Ms. McKinnon, Ms. Carter has applied for compensation but knows there is no money left in the fund.
Ms. Carter, 64, had been the secretary at a small rural school. It was a job that she loved but her declining health made it impossible for her to continue.
"I did take early retirement because I was unwell," she said. "So that represents quite a loss of income to me through not working, through my pension, and so on."
Ms. Carter said it would be "appalling" if she ultimately gets none of the money to which she is entitled. The compensation is an acknowledgment of the damage that was done, she said. "And for me not to be compensated is like a slap in the face that says you are not important enough."
A British Columbia man named Fred Girling, whose wife died of hepatitis C after receiving a transfusion of tainted blood, has started an online petition asking for the Liberal government to respect the purpose of the fund. Mr. Girling and his wife were compensated, but he is still waiting for an amount that would replace her lost earnings.
Don Davies, the NDP Health critic, said it is disappointing, unfair and somewhat deceptive on the part of the government not to pay victims of the tainted blood scandal the money they are owed.
"There is nothing that prevents the federal government from extending that money to those victims," he said. Instead, the government " is greedily trying to take the money back and using technical arguments to defeat what are obviously legitimate claims."
Colin Carrie, the Conservative Health critic agreed.
"They could make it happen if they really wanted to," said Mr. Carrie. "Any surplus in those funds should be allocated to the victims because that's what it was there for. And anything we can do to enhance their benefits, if their needs aren't being fully met, that's the right thing to do."