'Unspeakable' Explores How The Canadian Blood Crisis Is Relevant Today


Although television acts as a fictitious escape for many, it also has the imperative power to preserve real stories — especially the controversial ones that tend to get brushed aside. Unspeakable is a chilling retelling of Canada's tainted blood crisis and a reminder of its lingering effects. The show's first season follows an ultra-specific timeline that drops viewers off in 2015, which is close enough to present day that an Unspeakable Season 2 may or may not be called for. But Season 1 is definitely worth a watch.

The series originally ran on Canada's CBC network in January and it just ended in the U.S. on SundanceTV. Because it aired in 2019 but pretty deliberately stops in 2015, it seems unlikely there's more the show's team wants to explore in those four intervening years. But while there haven't been any announcements regarding a potential Season 2, there's plenty of additional information about the blood crisis for viewers eager to learn more.

During the 1980s, at least 2,000 Canadians were infected with HIV, and up to 30,000 exposed to Hepatitis C, due to contaminated blood products, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. It's considered the country's worst-ever preventable public health disaster, and 8,000 people are expected to die due to infection from the bad blood they received.

Unspeakable is based off of multiple personal accounts from the crisis, including Gift of Death: Confronting Canada's Tainted Blood Tragedy, a book by Andre Picard; The Tragedy of the Canadian Tainted Blood Scandal, a book by Vic Parson; and the personal experiences of the show's creator, Robert C. Cooper, who was directly affected when he contracted Hepatitis C during treatment for a congenital blood condition.

According to The Vancouver Courier, Cooper was born with hemophilia, a rare blood disease that prevents the blood from clotting normally. Treatment for the condition usually consists of the transfusion of human plasma. He struggled, under the radar, as a victim of the crisis for years. It took until he was cured by experimental treatment for him to feel comfortable writing about it. Then came Unspeakable.

"You can't possibly essentially cover a 30-year ordeal in eight hours of television," Cooper told The Courier. "So all we could hope to do was boil it down to an emotional experience that maybe gives you a little bit of the experience of what it was like to go through it."

Unspeakable follows two families who fell victim to the crisis and their tireless, two decade-long battle for justice and compensation. "The worst part is that it was largely preventable," the show's CBC description reads. "We cannot forget."

The battle resulted in "almost $10 billion in legal claims and a criminal investigation," per The Canadian Encyclopedia, and is still ongoing today. The National Post reported that in 2016, victims requested an underutilized government compensation fund distribute its $236 million surplus. And in 2017, according to a timeline created by the CBC network, the UK ordered a new inquiry into the scandal, claiming it was a "cover up" on an "industrial scale."

Depending on how the new inquiry plays out, Unspeakable could return. But for now, it's a fascinating (and heartbreaking) look back at an unfortunate piece of Canadian history.