Beneath the non-profit organization's post are more than 400 comments. Some ask questions about the difference between plasma and blood (plasma is the liquid portion of blood), while others ask if vaccinated folks can give blood (yes, they can).
Then there are comments like this: "I would but I'm gay and you won't let me," "Then stop your prejudice of gay people" and "I'll think about it when they stop being homophobic entirely."
According to Héma-Québec, "a man whose last sexual contact with a man was 3 or more months ago can give plasma."
While this does not rule out gay donors, the three-month restriction does not apply to lesbians, men who have sex with women or women who have sex with men.
"I would totally donate blood, but I am a healthy gay man and you don't want me because of who I sleep with (even though I have been with the same partner for 21 years). Good luck with your antiquated rules, in an age where you can screen blood for HIV and other pathogens very very quickly. So there you go, do without, it's absolutely no loss on me. So now, stop advertising on my feed," wrote a Facebook user. He asked to be identified as "a member of Montreal's gay community" to protect his privacy.
"It's honestly ridiculous that they even still have this restriction. If women can sleep with men and donate no problem, then there is absolutely no reason why men who sleep with men (or, in your case, one man) should be denied. All of the donations are tested anyway," Gatineau resident Jami Tatlock replied.
On its website, Héma-Québec responds to the question, "Why must a homosexual couple in a stable relationship wait 3 months without having sex?" in order to donate blood.
"Sex can contribute to the propagation of viruses that may be transmitted to other individuals through blood transfusions. Héma-Québec uses a range of very rigorous screening tests. Despite the high performance of these tests, the risk of an infected blood donation going undetected, however slight, is not zero because of the sensitivity limitations of the tests," it says.
"For this reason, despite the use of screening tests, we exclude donors at high risk of infections that might be transmitted through blood."
Héma-Québec describes the three-month window as a period of risk or a "silent period" when people could be asymptomatic and test negative, despite being infected with HIV or Hepatitis. The three-month restriction also applies to people who have gotten piercings or tattoos.
Laurent Paul Ménard, Héma-Québec's media relations director, told MTL Blog the organization is working to make blood donation more inclusive as "scientific evidence becomes available and blood product safety is shown."
Ménard pointed out that, since 2013, Héma-Québec has submitted multiple requests asking Health Canada — which must approve all changes to donor eligibility criteria — to reduce the qualification criteria for men who have sex with men.
Between 1992 and 2013, a man who had sex with another man — even once — could never donate blood. In 2013, a man had to wait five years after having sex with another man to donate. In 2016, the deferral period was reduced to one year. And, in 2019, one year was reduced to three months.
A new behaviour-based approach
Ménard said Héma-Québec is planning to submit to Health Canada again to ask for a new approach that takes behaviour into account, based on a model recently adopted in the U.K.
Héma-Québec, he said, will ask Health Canada to allow some sexually active men who have one same-sex partner to donate without any restrictions.
In the meantime, some potential donors are left torn between doing good and standing up for what they believe is right.
"I am torn now between donating myself," Tatlock told MTL Blog. "I want to help people, but I also kind of want to hold off until they change their homophobic policies as a kind of protest."
According to Ménard, Héma-Québec will submit the request to Health Canada by the end of this year.
Five months later, McGill has issued one statement and launched three investigations. But the accusers — who asked to be called "the girls" to protect their safety — told MTL Blog they've been left in the dark.
They said they received no updates on how investigations are progressing or whether the accused is facing any penalties.
Meanwhile, they said the student has continued attending classes.
McGill has been following its protocol for investigations into allegations of sexual assault — but this protocol has left the girls and other students in limbo for the majority of the school year.
"We can't feel safe on campus with him lurking around, viewing us as prey," one of the girls, Eva*, told MTL Blog.
Most of the girls were minors at the time of the alleged assaults, as was the accused student, whose name has not been released by the university or the police.
Eva told MTL Blog the accused student frequented bars near McGill residences where he would "talk to, touch and kiss [girls] who were drunk," and that he would persistently "beg" female students to "hook up."
In written testimonies shared with MTL Blog, each of the girls outlined how the accused student sexually assaulted them both off and on campus.
One of them said the accused sexually assaulted her when she was "completely blacked out" from alcohol.
What was McGill's reaction?
McGill responded to the December petition within three days. A statement written by Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Fabrice Labeau assured the student body and the general public that McGill was "looking into the matter."
"Our foremost concern right now is student wellbeing," Labeau wrote. He expressed what he called a "steadfast commitment to a campus community where everyone feels safe."
Though none of the girls had formally reported their assaults to McGill at the time — something Eva said was because "the resources weren't publicized and the social consequences for reporting were immense" — that changed by the end of December.
Eva said one of the girls filed a police report, and three of the girls filed complaints with McGill, initiating three internal investigations. However, neither the police nor the university was able to confirm details of these investigations to MTL Blog.
A month later, the university had not issued any new statements nor updated the girls involved, Eva said.
MTL Blog asked Cynthia Lee, McGill's associate director of media relations, to confirm the status of the investigations in February. She said that according to McGill's Policy Against Sexual Violence, "when a formal report is made, the University must immediately appoint an external Special Investigator to conduct a full and impartial investigation."
She also said "the entirety of this process is covered by confidentiality regulations," and that she could not disclose any further information.
The silence surrounding the allegations began to disturb other McGill students who said they had to interact with the accused student in their classes.
Anna Ni told MTL Blog she attended an online psychology course with the accused student, where she said he would participate in group discussions while he was part of the ongoing investigations.
She said McGill's ambiguous response to the allegations made her feel "small and voiceless."
"I am grateful for the fact that McGill has resources that can help students struggling with this situation, but McGill's vagueness in their [statement] gave me the impression that they were not actively taking care of this situation," she said.
In a screenshot Ni took of her classmates discussing the accused student's presence in the course via group chat — which she shared with MTL Blog — one student asked, "I thought the school took care of this? Why is he still allowed to study?"
Amrita Kaur, a first-year student unaffiliated with the girls, told MTL Blog that McGill's communications to the student body following the incident — mainly emails consisting of links to support resources — felt "empty."
She emailed the Office of the Dean of Students to express her "extreme disappointment" in the school for allowing the accused student to attend classes "as if nothing ever happened."
"Now I wonder if it's true [...] all great institutions sweep sexual assault under the rug," she wrote in her email to McGill, which she forwarded to MTL Blog.
She said she did not receive a response from the university.
Lee told MTL Blog that at McGill, until an investigation is complete, "disciplinary actions cannot be taken pre-emptively […] however, interim measures are put in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those directly affected."
Possible accommodations include late withdrawal from a course or a change in residence — but they only apply to survivors.
MTL Blog found that according to the Policy against Sexual Violence, the university can take pre-emptive disciplinary action if "there may be a risk of harm to any Member of the University Community."
MTL Blog asked Lee if the fact that the accused student was still attending classes meant that the university did not see him as posing a threat to university community members.
She did not directly respond to the question.
What is the 'Code of Silence'?
There is a legal reason why the university claims it is limited regarding what it can divulge about sexual assault investigations.
Brooklyn Frizzle, vice-president of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), told MTL Blog they believe universities use this law as a "scapegoat" to justify a lack of transparency in cases of sexual violence.
Frizzle said this wasn't the first time students' questions about a case involving sexual misconduct were left unanswered.
"I've lost track of how many emails to the Dean of Students or to the Provost that I've seen, to which there was no response because the university can't legally give a response," they said.
Last year, representatives from l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) started a petition to amend the Act so post-secondary institutions could "inform victims of the disciplinary measures taken against their aggressors."
"Evidence shows that [the Act] contributes to victims' lack of trust in institutional channels, since it keeps the person most affected by the complaint from accessing crucial information for their healing process and to their sense of safety at school and/or work," the petition read.
McGill's Policy states that all investigations should be conducted within 90 days. According to this timeline, the girls' investigations should have ended by April.
But even when the investigations are complete, the Code of Silence means the girls cannot be informed of the penalties that may or may not be imposed on the accused student.
As Lee told MTL Blog, "details or updates concerning particular cases cannot be provided to anyone outside those immediately involved."
This means other students won't know if they can expect to see the accused student in their classes again next semester.
Could the 'Code of Silence' change?
While the public may never know if and how the accused student has been disciplined, McGill's Annual Report on the Policy against Sexual Violence gives some indication of the number of investigations the school has conducted.
McGill provided MTL Blog with a copy of the Annual Report, which specifies that, in 2020, eight of nine completed investigations yielding "a finding of sexual violence" resulted in disciplinary action.
These actions included "admonishment and conduct probation, formal reprimand [and/or] cease and desist communication and contact orders," but it's unclear which actions applied to which investigations.
Out of 18 incidents of sexual violence reported to the university in 2020, 83% were submitted by women. Just one report was submitted by a man, while two were submitted anonymously.
In May, a National Assembly committee presented its findings on possibly amending Bill 64. However, whether the amendments pass remains to be seen. For now, those involved can only know that the investigations are finished.
A 2016 Université Laval study found that 36.9% of Quebec students, faculty and staff experienced some form of sexual violence by another person affiliated with their university.
"It feels constant, like there's [always] some big allegation of sexual violence that we're talking about that we're trying to pressure the university to respond to," Frizzle said.
"It's just the name [that] changes every semester."
*The source's name has been changed at their request to protect their safety.
With files from Ilana Belfer, MTL Blog.
If you require resources or assistance surrounding sexual assault in Quebec, the CAVAC helpline is available 24/7. Those who may need support can call 1-866-532-2822. Other crisis lines and 24/7 options can be found at The Lifeline Canada.
Club members meet every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss various Black and African authors that are often not taught in schools.
Black Girls Gather recently hosted its first public event, where a group of panellists got together to discuss African and Afro-descendant literature. The club plans on hosting more events for the public in the future.
You can read our interview with Black Girls Gather's Outreach and Event Coordinator, Joanna Kanga, below.
Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did the Black Girls Girls Gather book club come to be?
The idea for Black Girls Gather (A WIBCA Book Club) stems from the fabulous minds of our Co-Founders/Co-Coordinators Mariame Touré and Fabiola Ngamaleu Teumeni.
On their last night attending a social, economical and political forum at Bishop University in Sherbrooke, they wondered what they could do with all the information they had learned. Both being avid readers and having gone to a predominantly white high school where the selections of books written by BIPOC authors was non-existent, they decided it would be a great idea to start a book club.
This club centers on Black women and literary works by Black authors.
The team consist of Fabiola Ngamleu Teumeni and Mariame as our Co-Coordinators, Khadija Dia and Samantha Nyinawumuntu as our Assistant-Coordinators, Vanessa Manroop as our Treasurer, Amélia Souffrant as our Website Coordinator, Katya Stella Assoe as our Social Media Coordinator and myself as our Outreach and Event Coordinator.
The book club doesn't only include reading sessions where we discuss the books and make an association with our personal experiences — it also includes workshops.
The activities of the club consist of movie screenings, creative writing workshops, poetry workshops, visits from special guests (authors, podcast hosts) and art sessions all revolving around the books studied.
The purpose of this project would be to expose young girls to Black literature and engage in discussions around themes such as coming of age, racism, discrimination, identity, feminism, love, family, friendship, etc. all while building a network of support, mentorship and sisterhood for girls coming from the Black community in Montreal.
What do you think the importance of this club is?
Our program created a space like no other where young Black girls can gather and find comfort in discussing their shared experiences openly and honestly.
People often overlook the struggles and difficult realities that Black girls and women go through but our program puts the Black girl at the forefront not only in society but in the Black community.
We celebrate Black girls and women and highlight their accomplishments in so demonstrating that their realities cannot be erased.
We have seen an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem within our members. Some of them who struggle with insecurities regarding their hair are starting to overcome them.
A lot of the girls are proud to be able to speak openly about topics that they usually don't feel comfortable enough to talk about. They feel empowered that they are not alone and that they often, as a group, have shared experiences. They also enjoy the sense of sisterhood. [...]
For many of them, our meetings feel like the only place where they feel comfortable enough to speak openly without fear of being judged.
Our program empowers Black girls and women in every aspect not only regarding the love they should have for themselves and their bodies but for the space they should openly take in society.
We encourage our members in their dreams and aspirations and show them examples of Black women who are in diverse fields like politics, science, medicine, law entertainment, etc. We are changing the narrative of Black girls/women.
We are also implementing peace by denouncing verbal and physical violence done to Black girls/women not only in the larger society but in the Black community. We denounce these situations when we see them arise in books and when they are brought up by members from their own experience.
We show them that the Black girl's mind, body and spirit need to be protected.
Who are some of your favourite authors you've read at the club thus far?
We have read a range of different authors from a range of different literary works. Our favourite authors are the legendary, Toni Morrison, the illustrious Tiffany D. Jackson, the enchanting Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.
And frankly, all the authors that took part in the writing of Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves (a collection of essays by Black women writers) and Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America (a collection of short stories).