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Tuesday, December 23, 1997 Published at 06:38 GMT



Despatches

Toronto

In Canada, the Royal Canadian mounted police have announced that they are launching a criminal investigation into the country's infected blood scandal. Over 60,000 Canadians were infected with the HIV virus or hepatitis C in the mid-1980s from the country's blood supply. The police are following up a public inquiry published last month that blamed individuals and institutions responsible for distributing blood. Lee Carter reports;

At a news conference in Toronto, Superintendent Freeman Shepherd, said that the Royal Canadian mounted police, Canada's highest ranked law enforcement body, is already examining the 1,100 page public report to determine whether criminal charges can be laid against individuals. He said he hopes to have some answers by mid-March but warned a lot of work will be involved.

We recognise the urgency of this investigation to Canadians, especially those who have been directly affected by this tragedy. It is extremely important for the public to understand that this is a very large and complex case.

The public inquiry written by a Canadian judge, Horace Kreber, and published in November, blames in large part the Canadian Red Cross. The federal government has already decided to replace the Red Cross with a new government agency to run the country's blood supply.

The Kreber inquiry did not actually name officials in its findings. Some of the victims of the blood disaster are hoping the police will lay charges against individuals they believe should be held responsible for the decisions that led to so many people becoming infected.

Dozens of victims have already died including some babies. The police will also investigate the role of pharmaceutical companies in the scandal and one group of people, largely overlooked in the inquiry; federal government politicians who are supposed to be supervising the activities of the Red Cross and may have failed to notify the agency adequately about the dangers of Aids and HIV in the early to mid-1980s.





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