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Human Rights Vigil goes ahead

Capital Pride and Gay Men's Wellness Initiative partner together

UPDATE 5:30pm AUG 25: In a media advisory sent by Bauer it was announced that Capital Pride and the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative are partnering together to celebrate the queer communities’ achievements in human rights.

The human rights vigil will take place at the Human Rights Monument on Thursday, Aug 26 at 8pm.

Speakers will include David Hoe, first executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Helen Kennedy, executive director, EGALE Canada and Jeremy Dias, director and founder, Jer’s Vision.

UPDATE 3pm AUG 25: Ottawa police have withdrawn their speaker at tomorrow’s human rights vigil, Staff Sargeant John Medeiros confirms.

Medeiros says that he and John Byers will spend tomorrow dealing with the RCMP after two men were arrested on terrorism charges in Ottawa today. The hate crimes unit needs to move into high gear to deal with possible Islamophobic reactions in Ottawa and to help the city’s Muslim community deal with fallout, Medeiros said.

“It’s rather serious and urgent,” says Medeiros.

He says he regrets the appearance that the police’s withdrawal is an 11th-hour backpedal (“It’s not,” he says) and that he and Byers hope to watch the vigil as spectators, although they might be late.

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Organizers appeared locked in a stalemate on the eve of the city’s queer human rights vigil, planned for Thursday, Aug 26.

The vigil, organized by Capital Pride, is set to include Detective John Byers from the hate crimes unit as one of the guest speakers.

A number of community groups have been agitating to tone down the police’s presence at this year’s Capital Pride Week after queer, health and social services groups expressed concern over the handling of a high-profile HIV-nondisclosure case.

Byers is scheduled to speak at the vigil alongside Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada and David Hoe, a leader on HIV prevention by people living with HIV and the first executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa — both of whom have refused to speak if Byers is allowed to address the crowd.

Brent Bauer of the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative and Hoe have written letters to the Capital Pride Board expressing their concern over the inclusion of a member of the police at the vigil.

“I urge you to reconsider your position and demonstrate leadership by denouncing the policy and practices of the Ottawa Police Services in regards to HIV transmission, and its commitment to the use of discriminatory language and exposure, and to state your support for a health and human rights base in  responding to HIV – an epidemic in Ottawa still largely impacting gay men,” writes Hoe.

Pressure has been mounting for the police to open communication channels with Ottawa Public Health and affected communities for a health and human rights solution to future handling of HIV-nondisclosure cases. Although there have been internal debriefs on the police handling of the case, police chief Vern White, in his comments to the media on July 26, continues to support the police actions.

Last week, two of the three gay charities set to receive cash from a police Pride Week fundraiser announced that they would refuse the money, citing the HIV criminalization debacle.

Bauer has been a leading force in trying to get the police to open dialogue with the queer community. But, according to Lauryn Kronick, the media relations coordinator for Capital Pride, the vigil is about opening dialogue.

“We are just trying to open up a space for dialogue. That is why it is so difficult from our position to ask someone not to speak, because, in that way it is not allowing a space for dialogue, and it is not letting the police hear what the community has to say,” says Kronick. “We are actually really glad that this messaging is coming out because we want to create this dialogue and have the community and the police in the same space to talk about this.”

The Capital Pride Board was to have had an emergency board meeting on Monday, Aug 23 to discuss its position on the vigil. According to Kronick they were having another discussion on Wednesday. Kennedy, who is based in Toronto, is still waiting to hear back from Capital Pride.

In the meantime, a letter has been sent to various community groups in Ottawa urging them to come to an alternative vigil to be held at the Human Rights Monument on Thursday at 8pm. The letter asks communities to “make the vigil ours and show our stand on human rights.”

Bauer has also sent Capital Pride an alternative agenda that includes Jeremy Dias, director and founder, Jer’s Vision as one of the speakers in place of Byers.

Whatever decision Capital Pride makes, there will still be a vigil held at the Human Rights Monument — the question remains, will there be two?