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.

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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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From Quarantine to Criminalization: Public health responses to HIV and our history of activist interventions

Presented by the AIDS Activist History Project and AIDS ACTION NOW!, please join us for a special night titled From Quarantine to Criminalization: Public health responses to HIV and our history of early activist interventions.

The purpose of this event is to capture, document and share a collective history of activist interventions to push back against public health interventions in the early days of HIV activism in Toronto and Ontario at large. There will also be space to talk about strategies moving forward and how to learn from these experiences for the future.

Together are going to be talking critically and openly about the successes and failures of Ontario’s activism of public health interventions for people living with HIV in a historical context and its implications.

To start the conversation Joan Anderson, Glen Brown and guests will share their personal stories of their own interventions and involvement highlighting the successes and failures of the late eighties and early nineties. They will speak about exciting times such as:

“…fighting for the establishment and expansion of anonymous testing; fighting for the end of mandatory reporting; fighting for the end of mandatory contact tracing; fighting for reduced arbitrary section 22 orders to restrain “risk” behaviour by PHAs; fighting for the end of linkage between STI results and prior HIV tests; fighting against the reclassification of HIV to a “virulent” disease, which would have expanded Public Health’s powers to quarantine “misbehaving” PHAs, and trying to get the Health Minister fired!…”

Then we will move forward to talk about how this impacted the present and how to make use of this history for the future.

As there were many other individuals and communities that were also doing their own organizing we encourage others to be a part of this historical documentation as well. Please note that this is a community conversation and will be run as an open forum so that together we can take advantage of a collective knowledge sharing and learning experience.

If you were involved in early activism and/or have stories and insight to share or if you want to come listen to our community activist history then please join us (and bring your friends).

Friday, February 7th
519 Church Street Community Centre
7 – 9pm
Space is limited.

The panel will be video recorded and used for future publication but no individuals will be in the documentation without their full informed consent.

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