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Activists aim to rekindle vigil in 2012

Honouring those who have died of AIDS is crucial: organizer

AIDS activists are seeking to rekindle a 27-year fixture: the AIDS candlelight vigil.

With few attendees and volunteers and the collapse of the event’s organizer, last year’s AIDS Candlelight and Memorial Vigil was announced as the final vigil after almost three decades of remembering those who have died of AIDS. The event, organized in recent years by the Vancouver AIDS Memorial Society, had been part of the annual International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, held by a coalition of 1,200 groups in 115 countries.

Doreen Littlejohn is a registered nurse and coordinator of the positive outlook program at Vancouver Native Health Society. She was involved with the vigil for about six years but says attendance has been dwindling, falling last year to just eight people, essentially the event’s organizers.

But Littlejohn says honouring those who have died of AIDS is crucial.

“People are still dying of HIV,” she says. “They shouldn’t be dying, but they are dying, especially the most vulnerable, marginalized population.”

“Just like we remember veterans of different wars, we need to also remember our people,” she says. “I took this concern to a number of the AIDS service organizations, and they’re all very interested to look at getting the vigil up and running again. So, hopefully, we’ll be able to achieve that goal.”

Organizers will gather May 26 for a dinner at the Carnegie Community Centre to hold a memorial and make plans to revive the vigil next year.

Littlejohn hopes for a robust attendance at that time, and “a really big vigil in 2013 because that’s the 30th anniversary of AIDS Vancouver.”

AIDS Vancouver executive director Brian Chittock says 1,000 people attended the event at its peak, when it was held at Alexandra Park on Burnaby St, west of Beach Ave. Flowers were handed out and people read the names of those who died at the sombre but touching vigil, he says.

“It was a very special evening that most of us who have been affected or infected by HIV believe is part of the healing process,” Chittock says.

In 2005, the Vancouver AIDS Memorial Society took over organization of the vigil and moved the event to the AIDS Memorial at Sunset Beach, at Broughton St and Beach Ave.

Several people involved say the new location sapped people’s interest.

Moreover, fewer people were dying of AIDS because antiretroviral drugs were helping people live longer, Chittock says.

Littlejohn also speculates that there’s no longer “interest” in HIV/AIDS. “It seems to have lost favour, or is not as popular.”

The final blow came last year with the closure of the 17-year-old Vancouver AIDS Memorial Society because of a lack of volunteers and money.

“I’m disappointed,” HIV/AIDS activist John Cameron says. “You don’t put [in] 10 years to try to help build something and then watch it die.

“It deserves to be rebuilt beause it’s been around forever.”