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‘Do the feds give a damn?’

World AIDS Day demo to draw attention to funding cuts

EVIDENCE OVER IDEOLOGY. Demonstrators hold placards while Liberal MP Hedy Fry speaks and MP Carolyn Bennett looks on. Credit: Bradley Turcotte

The gay community and AIDS activists rallied at Parliament Hill Nov 30 after news broke detailing the Conservative’s heavily criticized new AIDS policy. They were joined by Liberal MPs Hedy Fry and Carolyn Bennett and NDP house leader Libby Davies.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, groups that serve people living with AIDS saw at 30 percent cut in funding while money was diverted to research for a vaccine. None of the money announced earlier this year has been spent on vaccine research yet.

Fry represents Canada’s third largest gay riding, Vancouver Centre, and was an advocate for safe injection sites in that city.

“What concerns me more than anything is that the Harper Government does whatever they do based on ideology, on moral imperative,” says Fry. “As opposed to using, what I believe is the most important thing, and that is evidence-based information.”

Fry travelled to Germany and Switzerland to see first hand how harm reduction programs can benefit citizens.

“I was appalled when Harper said, on the issue of his drug strategy, which is not really a drug strategy that he didn’t believe in harm reduction. Harm reduction is not the tooth fairy,” says Fry.

Under Harper, Vancouver’s safe injection site has been given two short-term extensions, but he has not endorsed the project on an ongoing basis.

Bruce House executive director Jay Koornstra says that without funding community groups, which are some of the only organizations that do AIDS prevention and education work, the rate of HIV infections will rise.

“Prevention efforts for many agencies will be affected terribly,” says Koornstra. “As the epidemic changes and as more prevention efforts are needed, if there isn’t money to support additional things, we’ll get short changed even more that we already have been.”

The short supply of funding prompted the Aids Committee of Ottawa to make a conscious decision not to apply for federal dollars, says ACO executive director Kathleen Cummings. With numerous other community groups in dire need of assistance, she says her organization didn’t want to take any money that could potentially help other groups.

“We knew that sister organizations across the province could be at risk of actually closing their doors and that increased competition would do that,” says Cummings.

Cummings says that HIV/AIDS prevention continues to slide further and further down on Harper’s list of priorities.

“It’s time to deliver,” says Cummings. “The reality is Canada is made up of many different peoples and it seems like only the needs of the historically dominant group are being looked after, and I say that locally as well as federally.”

Fry says she will continue to fight for additional funding and says that above all harm reduction is about hope for the future and improving the quality of life for Canadians.

“We want people to stay healthy and stay alive until we can find better ways to deal with their overriding problems,” says Fry. “We’re going to push now for 100 million and more. It is not acceptable for a country like Canada to have 4000 new cases a year. Down with ideology and up with evidence based outcomes.”