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no caption Credit: Xtra files

Perhaps it’s about being a rebel.

“People are beguiled by the mantra (that HIV causes AIDS),” HEAL’s Carl Strygg says. Then he asks, “Why should I accept the hypothesis just because the majority do?”

The Toronto chapter of HEAL started officially in the summer of 1997 as an expression of the simultaneous, independent research of Strygg and his co-activist Robert Johnston.

They were supported by writer and mentor Ian Young. Strygg says that Young should be credited as a fellow co-founder of HEAL Toronto, but it is Strygg and Johnston who have been its public face.

Strygg spends much of his time questioning the status quo. But this opera singer, renovator, home owner, cookie maker and entrepreneur, who single handedly financed the appearance of Nobel prize chemist, Dr Kary Mullis, in Toronto about a year ago, also asks that people not take the HEAL argument on blind faith either.

“I have no desire to save people from themselves. Informed consent is not about telling people what to do. There are no sacred cows. People must weigh the facts, take responsibility and make their own decisions,” he says.

Strygg, who says music keeps him alive, is HEAL Toronto’s publicist and official spokesperson. Chosen as official conceivably because the direct confrontation tactics of his colleague Robert Johnston were rubbing people the wrong way. Strygg is more the diplomat.

Johnston, the in your face activist and tireless investigator, is HEAL Toronto’s web meister and librarian. He is well aware of how arduous a journey it is to first keep abreast and then decode all the disparate research and information. In his recent HEAL publication Why Question HIV And AIDS, his bibliography is comically titled, How Can I Figure This Out When I Don’t Know DNA From DKNY?

“I don’t have time to get sick and die,” Johnston laughs, but adds that he hasn’t had any serious health crises. “I don’t believe that my HIV status means that there’s something seriously wrong with me.”

He chalked up 1300-km leading a bicycle tour in Mexico’s Chiapas state, and will do the same in Yucatan this winter. He casually offers that he takes nutritional supplements when he’s travelling, “because the food is so bad in Mexico,” but doesn’t regularly indulge in a steady diet of supplements.

His strategy has been one of “deprogramming the fear, by not going to desperate measures to fix something that’s not broken.”

“I’ve never had a CD4 count or a viral load test. I’m not a number, I’m a person.”