“Unspeakable” – CBC mini-series on Canada’s tainted blood scandal of the 1980s – Premieres January 9, 2019
In the early 1980’s, AIDS emerged and quickly became an epidemic. Those responsible for public safety failed. Thousands died. A second virus, hepatitis C, infected tens of thousands more. People were kept in the dark, afraid to speak out. Ignorance, arrogance, politics, and economics all lead to betrayal, from cover-up to scandal. The CBC limited series, Unspeakable, is told from the perspective of two families caught in a tragedy that gripped a nation, as well as the doctors, nurses, corporations and bureaucracy responsible. The series follows the decades-long saga as people struggled to survive, change the system, and battle for compensation for those who desperately needed it.
The Canadian Red Cross is not likely to be happy with this series, as it whole-heartedly brings back this unforgiven time in Canadian history that puts full blame on that organization. It’s an interesting mini-series that plays out like a documentary, delving deep into the medical profession, and in particular hemophiliacs and others who require blood transfusions. Viewers learn the intricacies and challenges of having to deal personally with hospitals that are often short-staffed and appear to be uncaring, along with the bureaucracy associated with large corporations that take too long to make decisions. The one main medical terminology used regularly is the type of blood given to patients that are either cryoprecipitate or a mixed concentrate that can include a mix from up to 20,000 different donors. A huge difference when something like AIDS is just being discovered and is noted as being spread through the transfer of blood.
the good thing about a mini-series, as opposed to a feature-length movie or documentary, is that there is room for character development outside of just the straight facts. We see children playing together, then one suddenly is no longer there. A husband who innocently infects his wife, and a journalist whose son has contracted the disease. There’s also the angle of anxiety when no one knows what is going on. The United States had been well aware and had tried to warn Canada for several months, but Canada refused to admit there could be a similar situation north of the border. Also, the rise of homophobia is shown when initially everyone was calling it the “gay disease” or “gay plague”.
It appears CBC may have another hot topic series on their hands with this one, when it debuts on January 9, 2019.
Unspeakable is based on emotionally charged personal accounts, as well as Andre Picard’s Gift of Death: Confronting Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy, Vic Parson’s Bad Blood: The Tragedy of the Canadian Tainted Blood Scandal, and The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canadian Blood Tragedy, led by Justice Horace Krever.
It began as a disease that was nobody’s fault and became a catastrophe. A federal inquiry led to finger-pointing and sweeping changes to the blood system. Billions of dollars in reparations were paid. Criminal charges were laid. The repercussions are still being felt today. The worst part is that it was largely preventable. We cannot forget.
Premieres on CBC Wednesday, January 9 at 9 p.m.
An interesting sidenote is that the music soundtrack is by Canada’s Dan Mangan, who performs at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on January 31, 2019.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.