Open Letter to Jane Philpott Minister of Health from AIDS ACTION NOW!

Dear Jane Philpott, Minister of Health,

As a community of people living with and affected by HIV and Hepatitis C we have been listening with concern to the limited information released from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) regarding massive changes to the funding landscape that supports organizations and services that our lives depend on. Specifically, we have been concerned about the recent response to a funding call and the Letters of the Intent for the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund.  We are very concerned with the way the process has taken place with regards to which organizations and proposal have been denied and accepted through the Letters of Intent process and the negative outcomes of decisions from the PHAC which have the potential to have a massive impact on the ongoing HIV and Hepatitis C epidemics in Canada.

Specifically, the current selection process for applicants to the Community Action Fund has widely lacked transparency, is rife with confusion and as such it has been hard for our communities to interpret the actions of PHAC and decisions as being sufficiently accountable to our communities that are most affected by HIV and Hepatitis C.  Based on the current very limited information PHAC have made available, we know that several long-standing programs and organizations that provide vital supports and services to those who most direly need supports, including indigenous people, trans people, people of colour and injection drug users have had their Letters of Intent rejected, with no chance of appeal.  This means that some organizations such as the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and the Canadian Treatment Action Council may have to close their doors for good. This is also the case with some peer-based programs in communities run by and for people with lived experience.

We have also heard that PHAC has had concerns about the “quality” of some of the proposals, yet the quality criteria from PHAC has not been transparent or publicly available, nor has the selection processes, including who is involved in the reviews and who has made decisions. This is especially concerned considering many organizations have raised concerns that reviewer comments on their Letters of Intent have been out of touch with local realities, have ignored a wide evidence-base and have been convoluted, inconsistent and/or incoherent. Furthermore, it was a regular concern that PHAC has had a delayed response to emails during the process so as to help address organizations questions and appeals for support.

Additionally, we know that PHAC is publicizing that the agency is seeking “new” and “innovative” programs, but are unable to tell what PHAC is using as definitions for “new” and “innovative” or what is driving this logic. Some of the organizations whose Letters of Intent were rejected absolutely had these qualities, through offering programs and services that were vital to particularly marginalized communities, using models of peer-based self-empowerment that may not be “new” to PHAC, but are vital and have a widely accepted proven evidence-base in working to addressing HIV and Hepatitis C in our communities.

Creating confusion, division and an environment of competition, in which already marginal and vulnerable people are encouraged to fight over the same amount of meagre resources is not “new” and it is not “innovative”. This logic of government is age-old and is designed to keep us distracted from the real target at hand and instead keeps us fighting each other.

As people living with and affected by HIV and Hepatitis C, we want you, the Minister of Health, and the bureaucrats at PHAC to know that we are watching this process closely, we demand transparency, and we are ready to act if our communities are further threatened. We demand that the selection process is made transparent, including the release of the names of people involved in the selection committees and the thematic areas of expertise they hold.  We demand that you are more transparent about how you applied the principles of the Greater and Meaningful Involvement of People Living with HIV and Hepatitis C (GIPA/MIPA) in your process. We also demand that an appeals process be made available to those organizations that have had their Letters of Intent denied so as to remedy the lack of support and transparency they were also denied while developing their proposals.

In September 2016, Prime Minster Trudeau hosted the Global Fund for HIV, TB and Malaria Replenishment Meeting and made commitments to increase funding to the Global Fund; during this time he took the opportunity to pose for numerous photo with leaders of important organizations that respond to HIV and Hepatitis C in Canada.  These same organizations are now likely dealing with extensive cuts to their vital organizations and services. The timing of Trudeau’s photo opportunities (and the goodwill they represent) with the faulty PHAC funding and approval process for HIV and Hepatitis C in Canada make us suspicious that you are interested in public relations exercises at the expense of people who are suffering from issues related to HIV and Hepatitis C in Canada.

Our community is vigilant, strong and resilient, as we have endured years of the Harper government’s legacy of administrative violence towards us. The current actions of your government look very similar to that past Harper regime. If your government wants to distinguish itself from the past legacy of secrecy and attacks on marginalized people impacted by HIV and Hepatitis C the time is now to demonstrate how are you are indeed the progressive sea change the Liberal party public relations machine is working so hard to make us believe.

We demand transparency and accountability now! We are watching closely.

Sincerely AIDS ACTION NOW!

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Banner drop! Stop criminalizing people living with HIV!

STOP THE WITCH-HUNT:
Activists drop banner with message to Ontario Premier
during Toronto Pride parade

TORONTO, July 3, 2016 —This afternoon, as the Ontario Premier marched in the country’s largest Pride parade, AIDS ACTION NOW! (www.aidsactionnow.org) dropped a huge banner overlooking Yonge Street, calling on Kathleen Wynne to “stop criminalizing people with HIV.”

Ontario continues to lead Canadian provinces in charges against people living with HIV for not disclosing their status, even when they have taken precautions to protect their partners, when there is little to no risk of transmission, and when no transmission has taken place. People are being prosecuted for aggravated sexual assault, one of the most serious charges under the Criminal Code. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a mandatory designation as a sex offender for a minimum of 20 years. Analysis of prosecutions shows a disproportionate number of charges against racialized people and a growing number against vulnerable women.

Overly broad criminalization is not only unjust, it also undermines public health. Fear of being criminalized discourages people from testing for HIV or seeking counselling. Fear of prosecution also makes it more difficult for people to disclose their status. This can contribute to the spread of HIV. Two years ago, nearly 80 of Canada’s leading HIV scientists issued a ground-breaking consensus statement reviewing the scientific evidence about HIV transmission risk and expressing their concern about the increasing divergence between that science and the overly broad use of the criminal law.

In 2010, Ontario’s then-Attorney General Chris Bentley committed to developing guidelines to limit such prosecutions. Six years later, his Ministry still refuses to develop guidelines to this effect. Meanwhile, Crown attorneys in Ontario continue to pursue such cases and even seek to expand the circumstances in which people can be convicted. This is not in the public interest.

We call on Premier Wynne to intervene. Her Attorney General must instruct Crown attorneys to respect scientific evidence about HIV transmission and stop unnecessary, unjust prosecutions which undermine public health efforts to control the spread of HIV.

– 30 –

For further information:
▪ AIDS ACTION NOW!: Darien Taylor (Sunday, July 3, only), 416-516-3147
▪ For legal background: Richard Elliott, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 416 898 3313
▪ For a timeline on efforts to engage the Ministry of the Attorney General: www.clhe.ca

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Open Letter to Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Minister of Canada

December 1, 2015

Dear Honourable Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Minister of Canada:

AIDS ACTION NOW!  is a Toronto-based activist organization established in 1988 to fight for an end to the AIDS epidemic. We were instrumental in convincing the Federal government to establish the first National AIDS Strategy in 1990. We were also central to the campaign that led to the development of the Trillium Drug Program in Ontario in 1995.

We call on you to take swift action to re-establish a formal and effective National HIV Strategy in Canada after so many years of government neglect.  We also call on you to build a National Pharmacare Program.

Despite advances in HIV prevention and treatment, many people continue to become infected with HIV every year in Canada. Further, many people living with HIV in Canada face a decreased quality of life due to HIV stigma and comorbidities. HIV stigma manifests and is fuelled through underemployment, social rejection, the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure (in most cases in the absence of actual virus transmission), and a host of other social factors.

Our renewed National HIV Strategy requires collaborative insight from a variety of stakeholders and decision-makers in order to establish Canada as a global leader in the HIV movement through advancing an evidence-based, effective and progressive National HIV Strategy. An effective strategy will require meaningful engagement and consultation with populations disproportionately affected by the HIV crisis in Canada, including Indigenous peoples, gay/bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, women, youth, trans* persons, sex workers, individuals from the racialized and African/Caribbean/Black communities, past and current prisoners, individuals who use drugs, and refugees and non-status persons who face limited healthcare access in Canada. The voices of people living with HIV are integral to the process of putting together a renewed National HIV Strategy. Its implementation will require the support of national and provincial partners, lawmakers, policy experts and community groups.

We call on you to take the first step to advance a renewed National HIV Strategy by calling a national consultation centred on populations disproportionately affected by HIV, followed by a meeting of high-level health, political, legal, and community experts to set out a path for implementing the resulting recommendations. As an independent group of concerned citizens, AIDS ACTION NOW! is willing to support your efforts to seek out and engage an appropriate diversity of informed community representation.

We are also calling on you to build a National Pharmacare Program.  There are barriers to HIV treatments as well as other necessary medicines that make treatment hard to access for a number of Canadians. The current patchwork of drug programs across the country and provinces is insufficient to meets these needs, and they introduce bureaucratic and costly barriers to important treatments that often limit migration and affect decision-making about employment for people living with HIV.

An effective National HIV Strategy cannot be restricted by the mandate of your ministry. It will require coordination across the board with other relevant areas of responsibility. We also call on you to commit to:

  • Taking leadership in putting an end to the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure.
  • Decriminalizing drug use.
  • Decriminalizing sex work.
  • Adoption of harm reduction as a guiding principle for government policy.
  • Making needle exchange access in Federal prisons a priority.
  • Supporting the creation of safer consumption/injection sites across the country.
  • Working toward the creation of a National Pharmacare Program.
  • Creating a national housing strategy to address the effects of wealth disparity and poverty.
  • Addressing the social, economic and infrastructural drivers that continue to place Indigenous peoples and communities at a disproportionate risk for HIV.
  • Ensuring that refugees and non-status persons living with HIV have access to equitable health and pharmacare.

Your new government provides Canada will an unprecedented opportunity to challenge this epidemic. We look forward to working with you to make AIDS in Canada history.

Yours in justice,

AIDS ACTION NOW!

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Think Twice – Our Community Responds to the Criminalization of HIV

The debut of over 40 new videos of community members addressing HIV criminalization and the launch of the website www.ThinkTwiceHIV.com

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St
Tues Nov 18, 7-9PM
Free Event

Hosted by Jordan Bond-Gorr and featuring performances by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre artist in residence Ryan Graham Hinds and the spectacular Fay Slift!

Canada is a world leader in targeting and criminalizing people living with HIV. People are being charged with aggravated sexual assault and thrown in prison for not disclosing their status, even when there was virtually no risk of transmission. Our laws are based on stigma and fear.

We’ve asked local community members to tell you why going to the cops when a sexual partner has not disclosed their HIV-positive status isn’t the smart choice. Going to the cops won’t stop you from getting HIV or stop the spread of the disease. Watch these videos, get some knowledge, and love each other ~ Think Twice!

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Solidarity to the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union!

Congratulations to the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union (THRWU) IWW 610 for their launch today! Over the last year, harm reduction workers across the city of Toronto have been organizing. They are the kit makers, outreach workers, community workers, and coordinators that reduce the harms associated with bad drug laws, poverty and capitalism. This is the first union for harm reduction workers with over 50 members and growing. AIDS ACTION NOW! supports all harm reduction workers across Toronto, and we look forward to the growth of this innovative union.

Here is a statement from THRWU on who they are:

We are an organization of Harm Reduction Workers who are united together in solidarity, to improve our working conditions and to strengthen equality in the workplace for the betterment of the workers and those who access the services. We are a union of employed and unemployed workers committed to harm reduction with a range of skills, education and lived experience. We have come together in our common concerns to form a non-hierarchical democratic labour union with a commitment to mutual aid, social justice and the principles of harm reduction.

Check out the union’s website here: http://thrwu.org/ and help them fundraise here: http://www.gofundme.com/thrwu

Follow THRWU on twitter for updates as they grow: https://twitter.com/THRWU

THRWU: Reducing the harms associated with work! Solidarity forever!

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