Halifax woman who led class action in blood transfusion case dies

A Halifax woman who led a $1.18 billion class-action settlement for those infected with hepatitis C has died.

HALIFAX — A Halifax woman who led a $1.18 billion class-action settlement for those infected with hepatitis C has died.

Lawyer Dawna Ring says Diane Forsyth died Saturday at the age of 64.

Forsyth became known nationally under her maiden name, Diane Parsons, for leading the legal fight for those infected with hepatitis C from blood transfusions.

Her family doctor, Patricia Beresford, said Forsyth, who had a bleeding disorder, became ill after getting a blood transfusion prior to dental surgery in 1989.

At the time, Canada had not instituted surrogate testing for hepatitis C.

“Early on in her illness, and until the day she died, Diane fought for adequate compensation for the medical and living costs of victims of hepatitis C exposure from blood,” said Beresford.

Thousands of people in Canada were infected with HIV and hepatitis C after receiving tainted blood transfusions in the 1980s.

The federal government launched a public inquiry in 1993 to look into the scandal. Justice Horace Krever spent four years in his investigation and made 50 recommendations when he issued his report four years later.

The settlement in the lawsuit led by Forsyth also wasn’t without controversy when it was announced in 1998.

Under the court-approved agreement, Ottawa and the provinces set up a fund to compensate people infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood from 1986 to 1990. But people infected before 1986 were excluded on the grounds that there was no test to screen for the virus before then, but it was later learned there were fairly effective tests available before 1986.

In 2006, a separate federal compensation deal for the so-called forgotten victims of hepatitis C was announced, covering people who were infected with the virus before 1986 or after 1990.

A number of people who knew Forsyth issued statements on her importance to those who were affected by tainted blood.

Harvey T. Strosberg, who was the lead lawyer in the national class action, said Forsyth was a “visionary and a leader.”

“She put her faith in the judicial system and she was not disappointed,” he said. “Thousands of Canadians have benefited because she led the way.”

Ring said Forsyth was giving of her time, even when she was sick and weak.

“Diane opened her private life to the public to assist in educating everyone about hepatitis C and its impact on the lives of those infected with the disease.”

Alexa McDonough, former leader of the federal and Nova Scotia NDP, commented on her importance to those with hepatitis C.

“How valiantly Diane struggled and championed the cause for others battling with hepatitis C,” she added.

Forsyth was predeceased by her first husband, Basil Cruickshanks. She is survived by her husband Billy Forsyth; daughter Heather Fleet Wolff; step-daughter Kelly Gillis; and sons Michael, Basil and Brian Cruickshanks.

A funeral was scheduled to be held Wednesday in Halifax.

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