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Are PWAs shut out?

Growing pains at Canadian AIDS Society meeting

ANNOYED. Dale Lockhart is not happy. Credit: Shawn Scallen

The Canadian AIDS Society will hold its annual general meeting and PWA forum this month in Ottawa. But before the details were even finalized, activists were accusing CAS of being inaccessible and not representing gay men.



“Agencies are more important than PHAs,” complains longtime Ottawa activist Dale Lockhart, who’s been involved with CAS for more than 10 years. “That is what I hear and that is what other PHAs hear.”



Lockhart says the annual PHA (people with HIV and AIDS) Forum used to invite everyone to pop by and connect with activists and staff. There was dialogue, debate and exchange. Now, each agency elects a delegate.



“Individuals are allowed to attend if they can get through the screen door,” says Lockhart, “but the open, broad invitation to the 1,000 PHAs who are gay in this community is just not there. The people who are elected representatives are not representative of the majority of gay PHAs.”



A spokesperson for CAS says there are good reasons for the system – and says gay men are well represented.



“Any person living with HIV/AIDS can attend the forum,” says Gerard Yetman, manager of national events for CAS. “They don’t have a vote.”



The limiting of voting rights to the elected reps of member groups ensures equal representation from across the country, says Yetman.



“Let’s say we held the CAS AGM in the Yukon,” says Yetman, “and we had 50 elected members and 100 people from the Yukon. Then only northern issues would get support. In order to create a balance. Only one elected official from each organization can bring forward resolutions and vote on them.



“From my personal experience there has always been more gay men than women or other groups. It is pretty hard to create that balance and that is up to the member organizations to determine by who they send.”



But staff at organizations are complaining that CAS is inaccessible to them, too.



The AIDS Committee Of Ottawa (ACO) is located in the same city as CAS.



Says ACO executive director Lise Ladouceur: “We have some difficulties reaching CAS. It would be nice to be able contact them face-to-face. I would like them to be a little bit more accessible to their members so we can work jointly on advocacy and education pieces that are relevant.”



Ladouceur also has not seen a lot of lobbying by CAS for increased federal funding for AIDS programs.



“The Ontario AIDS Network has been very active at the provincial level,” says Ladouceur. “CAS should be playing a role on the federal level and probably coordinating with organizations at the provincial level.”



Here’s the Ottawa line-up:



• A PHA forum Tue, Jul 18 to 20; only people with HIV/AIDS may attend. Only official representatives of member organizations may vote. Attendees will pick five most important topics to discuss.



• The CAS AGM is Thu, Jul 20 to 22; financial reports, a review of last year’s work plan and approval of next year’s, plus a report back from the World AIDS Conference in South Africa.



• Prevention Satellite; on Sun, Jul 23 prevention workers and program managers evaluate the latest research and experience from the field and make recommendations for more effective prevention education.



For more info on the conferences, contact (613) 230-3580 or www.cdnaids.ca.