STILL ON GUARD A PUBLIC DISCUSSION ON QUEER BODIES IN CANADA

STILL ON GUARD
A PUBLIC DISCUSSION ON QUEER BODIES IN CANADA
With AIDS ACTION NOW, and Queer Ontario

Facebook event page, here.
Sunday May 12, 2013
2 to 4pm

Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
34 Isabella Street, 2nd floor, wheelchair accessible
Free, light refreshments will be served
Everyone is Welcome

From the Bathhouse raids to HIV Criminalization queer bodies have long been under attack in Canada.

Join us for this public discussion where we will talk about the ways in which LGBTQ+ bodies are ignored, displaced and criminalized. Meet artists, activists, friends, and neighbors. Hear what they are doing to push back, make space, and create a better world.

With a reading by Gerald Hannon, and screening John Greyson’s “After the Bath”.

More information:
In the late 90s, Hudler spoke out against Julian Fantino’s London Police Force for Project Guardian, their witch-hunt of an investigation, which honed in on the sex lives of a group of men. Hudler, along with…. released a report called ON GUARD, which is where this event derives it’s name.

About the exhibition:
The Practice of Everyday Freedom:
Richard Hudler and Rupert Raj,
curated by Aidan Cowling and Ted Kerr

The practice of everyday freedom is “the means by which people deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Pablo Friere

The exhibition makes use of the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives and the Pride Library of Western Ontario to provide context for the outstanding contributions of Hudler and Raj, trailblazers in asserting their lives in matter in the face of ongoing oppression as experienced by many Canadians.

Through the use of letters, manuscripts, newspaper articles, and other ephemera, viewers will gain a sense of the everyday freedom as lived by the men. Through the journey of engaging in common details, and historical highs, viewers can see Hudler and Raj as both exceptional for their contributions, and emblematic of other LGBTQ+ Canadians, who through their practice of everyday freedom, transform lives by living, increasing the life chances for those around them.

A hope is that the exhibition will broadcast the achievements of Hudler and Raj, while also communicating the idea that they are as special as any viewer. In this way, LGBTQ+ viewers will understand the NPC and the CLGA, as a space for all of us.

While some may have portraits in the collection, we all have a place in the archives.

Posted in AAN Meetings, Criminalization, Harm Reduction, Think Twice Campaign | Leave a comment

HIV is not a crime! Accountability demanded for scientists who provide ‘expert’ testimony supporting HIV criminalization

Saturday, April 13, 2013 – At the Canadian Association of HIV/AIDS Researchers conference in Vancouver AIDS ACTION NOW! led people living with HIV, researchers, and doctors to stand in solidarity and call for members of the Canadian HIV research community to stop acting as paid expert witnesses on the side of Crown prosecutors in HIV non-disclosure trials.

Over 50 demonstrators stood behind a sign that said: “HIV is not a crime. AIDS Profiteering is” during Dr. Robert Remis’ abstract presentation. Dr. Remis is a prominent epidemiologist who is responsible for Ontario’s provincial epidemic surveillance, and is also a paid expert witness for the Crown in many HIV non-disclosure trials.

AIDS activists have been increasingly angered at the perceived conflict of interest practiced by this scientist and that he financially benefits off the lives of people who are prosecuted in relation to HIV non-disclosure. In one case, Remis’ testimony in the pre-trial led to charges being increased from assault to aggravated assault. Remis is also a member of the Canadian Association of HIV/AIDS Researchers and was a abstract reviewer for the conference’s Epidemiology and Public Health Sciences track.

Jessica Whitbread of AIDS ACTION NOW! stated, “We are calling on HIV scientists and doctors to take a moral stand and stop perpetrating HIV stigma against those of us living with HIV. If we are to end stigma and HIV criminalization we need to act in our own movement first.”

The protest was silent and strong with members leaving their seats in the front row to come and join the demonstration. One member of the audience who joined the demonstration stated, “When I looked back I saw a dense wall of fierce women activists and it gave me the chills to know how powerful they were. Then I got up and joined them.” Another member of the protest said: “We need to stand for something or else we will compromise for anything.” 

Demonstrators handed out a flyer that said:

Dear Doctor,

It’s your duty to actively oppose the criminalization of people living with HIV.

Use your title and platform to promote science, reason, and social justice. Speak out against the further marginalization of populations you serve and study.

Criminalization perpetuates stigmatizing misinformation, fear, and hatred. Testifying in support of prosecution appeases oppression. You know that this miscarriage of justice contradicts science and public health so retaliate.

Strongly advocate for universal access to HIV education, testing, and treatment, and say NO to the criminal prosecution of people living with HIV!

Sincerely,

Integrity

Posted in Action, Criminalization | 9 Comments

A Spectacle of Stigma: A First-hand Account of a Canadian Criminal HIV Exposure Trial

By Carl W. Rush

Image original by Gran Fury & remixed by Visual AIDS.

Download the Spectacle of Stigma Booklet!

“Even I am surprised by the verdict.”

Andre Rajna, Crown Prosecutor, December 19, 2012

I recently attended the criminal HIV exposure trial of two young men in Kitchener, Ontario. Each was found guilty of two counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault for exposing (but not infecting) two other men to HIV. They are now liable for a Life Sentence.

Prior to the trial, I had been following HIV exposure trials in Canada and reading the courts’ decisions. To me, many of the guilty verdicts just did not seem to fit the evidence presented in the trial or in some cases did not even seem to follow the law.[i] How does non-violent, consensual sex between adults become a crime? I had been wondering if I was missing something; I wondered what it was that I was blind to. Was I being unreasonable? Did I not properly understand the law or the legal procedures? Was I blind to my own ignorance or bias? When I found out that another HIV exposure trial was scheduled right in my own neighbourhood, I knew that I had to go. I had to see what was happening for myself.

The Trial

The trial lasted 12 ½ days, including two full days of jury selection and 11 hours of jury deliberations. The Judge began the trial by giving the Jury some general preliminary instructions.

The Crown Prosecutor then made an opening statement; Defense Counsel did not. The Crown, then presented its evidence, calling 5 witnesses: the two investigating police detectives; the two Complainants and a public health expert on HIV transmission and epidemiology. The Crown also presented multiple exhibits including transcripts of text messages among the Complainants and Defendants, the medical records of the Defendants and one of the Complainants, the expert’s report for this case and a necklace one of the Defendants mistakenly left behind at one of the Complainant’s apartment. All of this evidence was rigorously cross-examined by the Defense Counsellors.

The Jury asked multiple questions of the Judge during Crown’s presentations and the Defense’s cross-examination. Their first question, on the morning of second day of evidence, requested the definition of Aggravated Sexual Assault. The Judge postponed the answer until his final instructions to the Jury.

The Judge expressed “grave doubts” about the Complainants’ credibility and said they were “alive to the risks.” Justice Donald Gordon, Pre-charge Conference, December 13, 2012

Defense Counsel aggressively targeted the credibility of the Complainants. Both Complainants were asked to explain the multiple discrepancies between their police statements, their testimony at pre-trial hearings and their testimony at the trial itself. They gave distinctly different versions of the sex acts that were the subject of the charges. The first Complainant recounted three different accounts about which one of the Defendants he had had intercourse with, over the course of his statements to the police and his testimony at the preliminary hearing and this trial.  He testified that he tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), always used a condom for intercourse and always enquired about his partners’ HIV status, except, of course, in this case and the 5 other sexual partners he referred to in his text messages including the other Complainant whom he knew to have an active syphilis infection. After this contradiction was exposed he stated that he relied on the other Complainant to arrange and screen the participants for all of their group sex encounters. “If they were all right with him, it was OK with me.”

The second Complainant testified that he had not always used condoms or enquired about his partners’ HIV status because he looked over his potential sexual partners and if “they looked upstanding and had their own car, they were good to go.” He said this was the first time he arranged a group sexual encounter, usually it was done by the other Complainant. He perjured himself at the preliminary hearing by stating that he did not have a criminal record for drugs and weapons related charges. He was also exposed by several contradictions and evasions designed to cover up his illicit drug activities on the day of the alleged assaults. He deleted all the text messages stored on his cell phone for the same purpose before he made his complaint to the police. He also lied on the stand about knowing he had an active syphilis infection at the time of the alleged assaults even though his medical records, which were one of the exhibits, indicated otherwise. Both Complainants were caught colluding about their testimony at the trial, both prior to the trial and, on the evening between their appearances on the witness stand.

The Defense did not call any witnesses but presented one exhibit, several letters from one of the Defendant’s doctor to corroborate some of the testimony of the Complainants.

It became clear during the course of these proceedings that the Defense had previously won a motion at a pre-trial hearing to admit into evidence a limited amount of the Complainants’ sexual history that related directly to the charges. Usually the sexual history of the complainant is not admissible to prevent its use to discredit the complainant, however in this case an application under Section 236(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada was granted as this evidence had a direct bearing on the decisions to be made by the Jurors.

Following the presentation of evidence, the Defense Counsellors made their Summations and then the Crown Prosecutor made his Summation.

The Judge then gave a summation of the evidence and his instructions to the Jury, explaining principles of law, including the innocence of the Defendants until proven guilty, that the Jury may not infer guilt if the Defendants chose not to testify, that the Crown must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and he explained the legal elements of the Aggravated Sexual Assault law. The Jury was then sequestered to make their deliberations.

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Save the City of Toronto’s Global AIDS Initiative from the Chopping Block: We can afford it

It is once again that time of year in the City of Toronto.  No, not the holiday season of merriment and giving, but the season of scrooge and “restraint.”  Yes, the City’s budget process.  On the chopping block this year, the City’s Global AIDS Initiative.  The Initiative was first funded in 2006, and in last year’s budget was approved to be administered by Schools without Borders who worked with partners in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana–take a look at last year’s activities.  Here is the text of the deputation we made to the Budget Committee on 10 December, urging them to save the Initiative:

“Good afternoon councillors. Thank you for the opportunity to give a deputation before the budget committee.

My name is Jordan Bond-Gorr, and I am here as a representative of AIDS ACTION NOW!, an organization committed to improve access to treatment, care and support for those living with HIV/AIDS in Canada and around the world.

It is to speak about those living with HIV/AIDS globally that I wish to speak to today ; in specific, I wish to address the cut being offered by Public Health of the Global AIDS Initiative.

This sum, $104,000, was part of Toronto’s commitment to international cooperation in the fight against HIV/AIDS was made as part of the 2006 International AIDS Conference. Toronto’s commitment showed a spirit of understanding and compassion, of generosity borne of the knowledge of our many advantages, a sense of our cooperative ability to fight HIV/AIDS at home and abroad. It is, in a sense, the best of who we are as Torontonians.

In the budget, you are faced with a choice to keep Toronto’s word or renege on it. When there are viable options to save this initiative, it is a strong ideological statement for you to make to go back on this commitment. African lives abroad don’t matter in this budget. They are a line item that can be crossed out and never worried about because they’re unseen, unheard and without a voice.

We are a city that prides itself on our diverse immigrant communities; given this cultural diversity, cutting this initiative says exactly whose lives are valued at home as well as internationally. Budget committee members be clear on what going back on your word says to your constituents and the citizens in Toronto. When you create the crisis through disregarding alternatives, you are now at liberty to show the international community what matters most to Toronto. In essence, the worst of who we are.

As host city of World Pride 2014, do you show the world that in Toronto we value all lives affected by HIV/AIDS, or do you close your eyes, recant your word and simply say “not our problem”|

At AIDS ACTION NOW we are here to advocate for the faceless & the voiceless. They are not voters or taxpayers. They will never be able sit before you and call you to task for your actions. So we will.

As you consider this budget, understand you have options. You can save the Global AIDS Initiative. You can ensure services and programs you will hear about today from other citizens also are enriched or saved. There are options. Raise property tax. Those who can afford to pay will.”

Please consider emailing your City of Toronto Councillor to support the Global AIDS Initiative.  You can find your Councillor’s email info here.

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Think Twice Campaign Phase Two: Calling all men who fuck men

Last night AIDS ACTION NOW! launched phase 2 of our Think Twice Campaign against the criminalization of people living with HIV.   We were at the Art Gallery of Ontario for the launch of poster/VIRUS 2012, to celebrate and commemorate a Day Without Art. Our target audience for phase 2: Men who fuck men.   We are urging them to Think Twice before going to the police to make criminal complaints.  Why?  Read all about it …

“At ANN! we have been working for many years to oppose, to fight, to decry the unjust use of the criminal law against people living with HIV.  Against people accused of not disclosing their HIV infection to sexual partners.  The criminal justice system and the mass media would have us believe these people are on par with brutal, violent rapists and mass murderers.

Since June of this year we have been hard at work on our Think Twice Campaign.  The aim of the Think Twice Campaign is to reduce the number of prosecutions and convictions of people living with HIV.  We are going about this by asking the various groups of people who drive criminal investigations and prosecutions to Think Twice about their role, their responsibility.  We are asking people to Think Twice because the logic and momentum and injustice of prosecutions must be brought to an end.  For the sake of justice.  For the sake of people living with and at risk of HIV.  For the sake of all of us.

To date the Think Twice Campaign has targeted Crown Prosecutors—because they play a pivotal role in driving criminal prosecutions.  Those of you who have followed the criminalization of HIV know that in the past year there has been good reason to go after Crown Prosecutors, and their boss, the Attorney General of Ontario.

Tonight we enter the second phase of the Think Twice Campaign.  And you are the target audience—sexually active people, LGBT people, queer people and our allies, friends and loved ones.  People who have progressive values, who understand the importance of art and activism.  And who still espouse values like empathy, compassion and justice.  People who can conceive of themselves outside the strict binary logic of the criminal justice system—a system in which only two types of people count, and are counted: “innocent victims” and “dangerous criminals.”

This new phase of the Think Twice Campaign will focus on gay men,  queer men, transmen and other men who fuck men.  Why? Because more and more men are going to the police to lay charges against men living with HIV.  Because with our limited resources, we believe we can reach this group of people.  Because men who fuck other men make up almost half of everyone in Canada living with HIV—think about it, the potential for growth in the number of charges and prosecutions and convictions against gay men is absolutely terrifying.  And because gay men should know better than to think the police and the criminal justice system are our friends, our protectors, or the guardians of our community’s values.

So tonight we are asking you to Think Twice.  To Think Twice before going to the police to lay charges.  But also to challenge your friends, acquaintances and lovers to Think Twice about HIV criminalization—its logic, its foundations and its very real harms.  Ask them to Think Twice now, before they are face-to-face with the very real possibility of becoming a “victim” (aka complainant) in a criminal investigation and prosecution of someone living with HIV.  And if and when someone close to you asks you for advice, please ask them to Think Twice before going to the police to lay charges.

And here is what we suggest you ask them to consider—to Think Twice about:

Once they go to the police there is no turning back—there is no way to undo a police investigation.

The criminal justice system is public and full of sensational public spectacle.  They get to play the role of victim in that spectacle, and will be treated like one.

Ask them to Think Twice about the fears and phobias that drive the criminal justice system.  To Think Twice about the inherent misogyny, homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia and racism.  About the institutionalized violence against sex workers, Black men and other men of colour, the mentally ill.  And about the criminal justice system’s colonizing and genocidal impulses aimed at Aboriginal people.  Surely these should not be the values and institutions we invite to mediate our intimate relationships, with all their complexity, emotion and pleasure and pain.  With all of their historical and social meaning and potential.

Use the posters launched here tonight as your guide for Thinking Twice and inviting others to do so.  Every poster demands our attention and demands that we Think Twice about the forces that drive the HIV epidemic in Canada, and drive the criminalization of people living with HIV.

We are asking you to Think Twice and to reject actions based on anger, fear, phobia, and ignorance.  To reject the all-too socially acceptable drive to seek retribution and punishment above all else.

We are asking you to Think Twice, to choose progressive values over punitive values.  To act in solidarity and compassion, with a deep sense of responsibility to one another and empathy for one another.

Progressive values have allowed gay men, and all marginalized people, to survive and sometime even flourish in the midst of the HIV epidemic.  To survive and sometimes flourish despite government indifference and inaction.  In the face of extreme social stigma, indifference and even violence.  Even while many of us died.  Even while our friends and lovers died around us.

The AIDS epidemic—the AIDS crisis—is not over.  The criminalization of HIV is one of the surest signs of the ongoing AIDS crisis.  It is also a force that continues to drive the HIV epidemic—driving the most marginalized amongst us underground and to the margins. Away from the people and organizations and programs we rely on to stay healthy and safe.

 

Individually and collectively we must Think Twice before going to the police to lay charges.  Think Twice before empowering the criminal justice system to create more “innocent victims” and “AIDS killers” in our communities.   As AIDS activists we have a long history of fighting against simplistic, punitive solutions to complex social problems—of fighting for human dignity and human rights, for justice and fairness.  We urge you to join us in this vital work.”

Posted in Criminalization, Think Twice Campaign, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment