August 10th, 2012 marked the 37th anniversary of Prisoners Justice Day across Canada. To show support for prisoners, the annual solidarity gathering and vigil was held in front of Toronto’s Don Jail. Activists and community members rallied to show support for those who are currently incarcerated and called for alternatives to incarceration - at a time when governments are enacting repressive U.S. style get-tough-on-crime laws to build more prisons despite a falling crime rate.
A representative of AIDS ACTION NOW! spoke at the event along with representatives from Maggie’s, the Toronto Harm Reduction Coalition, Prisoners AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). A Prisoners’ Justice Day statement was also read from the G20 accused and other inmates within the Central North Correctional Complex in Penetanguishene, Ontario, and the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario.
Below is a transcript of Alex McClelland’s statement on behalf of AIDS ACTION NOW!
I’m here to send love, solidarity and respect to people who are currently or formerly incarcerated across Canada for Prisoners Justice Day!
In Canada, there are 70,000 of us living with HIV and AIDS, and between 250 to 300,000 people living with Hepatitis C. These numbers are growing at a steady rate. Both HIV and Hep C impacts folks in prison disproportionately. Depending on which facility and in which jurisdiction you are in, Hep C rates in prison can be up to 45 times greater than the general population, and HIV rates are around 22 times greater.
The Federal Government’s crusade to destroy human rights and promote policy based on moralistic and stigmatizing attitudes, rather than with evidence, science and dignity is actively driving these epidemics in prisons and in the general population.
People who are currently incarcerated are actively denied their human right to health, by the Federal Government and Corrections Services Canada. Both of whom will not fund or allow syringe distribution and make condoms and other prevention measures hard to come by inside prison institutions. Despite the massive amounts of scientific evidence demonstrating the successes of such interventions in prisons at preventing HIV and Hep C transmission. The Federal Conservative government’s opposition to harm reduction and HIV prevention measures is an anti-human rights, anti-science, anti-academic, moral crusade against the most vulnerable members of society. This directly puts the lives our allies in prisons at risk on a daily basis.
But, despite this institutional and systemic violence and oppression, we know that our allies inside are doing what they can to protect and educate themselves.
And to our brothers and sisters who know their HIV-positive status inside Canada’s prisons. We are with you and sending you much love, support and respect today and everyday. We know you are working to take care of yourselves and each other, despite the widespread institutionalized AIDS-phobia, homophobia, racism, trans-phobia and intense HIV-related stigma, and violence that you face on a daily basis. Not to mention
other forms of rights violations you face such as HIV treatment interruptions that threaten your health, and the regular breaches of your confidentiality - all that take place due to poorly trained staff in your institutions, and the
lack of political leadership to ensure your rights are realized.
Today, we also want to send love out to the over 100 people across Canada who have faced charges and imprisonment due to the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. These are charges that are based in stigma, fear and AIDS-phobia, not on science, or medical
evidence. Canada holds the shameful title of one of the world’s leaders in criminalizing HIV. As Richard Elliot of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has said, “the epidemic of over-criminalization is a growing menace to public health and human rights here in Canada — threatening not only those members of our communities who live with HIV, but ultimately putting all Canadians at greater risk and undermining our collective efforts end AIDS”.
To everyone inside due to these shameful charges not grounded in scientific fact, justice or human rights, we hope you know that you have our support and that there is a global movement of dedicated experts working tirelessly to end the criminalization of HIV.
Finally, we want to send a message of solidarity and love to all people who use drugs inside and outside of prisons. Canada is a country with a large drug consumption population. We know that drugs are widely available and used regularly within prison institutions across the country as well as outside in the general public. We must stop the moralistic and criminalizing approach to drug use in this country. The Federal Government is a leader in driving the global war on people who use drugs. Despite international calls from experts around the world to decriminalize drugs and view drug use as a health issue, not a issue to be criminalized. But today a massive percentage of people inside prison walls continue to be there due to drug-related offenses.
We know that there is a clear correlation between laws that criminalize drugs and high rates of HIV among people who inject drugs. Harper’s disgusting and shameful measures through the Omnibus Crime Bill will make the HIV and Hep C epidemics worse, and our streets and lives will be less safe. The scale-up of the war on people who use drugs in Canada is actively aimed at threatening our survival and the survival of people inside.
We live under a political regime that is anti-democratic, fascist and that is actively implementing bad polices intended to threaten our survival. We have to stand up against this denial of our basic human rights to health and security.
Thanks for listening to me today. Again much love, respect and solidarity to everyone inside.
AIDS ACTION NOW!