NDP MP Libby Davies was recently at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. I spoke to her today about her experiences there.
Q: How was your trip to Vienna for the International AIDS Conference?
A: I’m very glad I went. I was the only Canadian MP there, which I was surprised by. I was invited to speak on a panel – it was the first time they’d ever had a panel of elected officials, speaking about leadership, the need for political leadership on HIV, particularly as it relates to criminalisation, and that was what the subject of our panel was. My specific element of it was the impact of HIV on drug users and how, as an elected person, I had not bought into the idea that criminalising people who use drugs and who are at a very high risk for HIV was a good idea, but just the opposite – that we had to stop that. There were four MPs – it was a very well attended session, and we had a very good discussion. Overall one of the themes of the conference was dealing with criminalisation issues like issues around criminalisation of non-disclosure of status. I went to an inter-parliamentary delegation meeting on the Tuesday, where there were MPs from around the world, and the UN AIDS organisation made an excellent presentation about criminalisation, and they focused on things like travel bans, and countries that are looking at different laws to criminalise people with HIV over things like non-disclosure of status, and they had all kinds of good information about why this wasn’t good. It was quite a lively debate. It was very concerning because there are legislatures and governing parties that are moving on legislation that would be very regressive, so it was quite a hot topic at the conference. And of course the Vienna Declaration was there.
Q: Yes, that was my next question.
A: That actually originated in Vancouver with Dr. Evan Wood, who is actually one of my constituents. A wonderful researcher, and he’s been part of a new organisation that started up – a group that authored this declaration called the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. It’s a great declaration – I want to bring it forward to our caucus and our party, and have it adopted. They’ve already had, by the time we left the conference, some eleven thousand people had signed onto it. It was really cool because at the conference, the languages that they had were English, Russian and I think Chinese – so I got a copy of the declaration in English and Russian, which was kind of neat. But there was a lot of buzz and a lot of talk about the declaration, and I went to some of the press gatherings, where they were talking about it, and it’s a very solid document, and I’m really proud that it came from Canada, and from Vancouver specifically, despite the fact that we have this Conservative government that is hell-bent on taking regressive steps when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
Q: Otherwise, what else have you been up to this summer? You were just at Vancouver Pride?
A: No, actually I wasn’t. I was all ready to go, and I had my pink t-shirt to wear, but I ended up going to a funeral in Whitehorse on Sunday because Todd Hardy, who is a former leader of the NDP up there, and a good friend – his wife Louise used to be an MP, and she was elected the same year as me, ’97. He’d had a long illness with leukaemia, and ironically, when he first realised he was very sick, he was actually at my house in Vancouver staying, and I had Jack and Olivia there, and Todd and Louise, and Kim and I, and it was actually Pride weekend – it was four years ago that he first got sick. Well, he’d been sick before that, but when we realised and he went home and got diagnosed very quickly and sent back to Vancouver. And then it was the Pride weekend that I went to his funeral, so I don’t know what that means, but it was some kind of coincidence. So I was up in Whitehorse actually, so I wasn’t at Vancouver Pride, and then I came straight here to Ottawa.
The other thing that might be of note is the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the Pickton trial came out on Friday and the conviction was upheld. I’ve been renewing my call for a public inquiry around the missing women, which I’ve been calling for since 2001. The Vancouver police department actually supports the idea – the Vancouver police chief, Jim Chu, actually officially apologised to the families, but there does need to be a public inquiry. I’ll be writing a letter to the BC Attorney General. I’ve done it many times, but now that the trial is for sure concluded, because his conviction has been upheld by the highest court in the land, I feel that it’s really important to get at the underlying issues of what happened to the missing women and the lack of adequate police investigations, and why it went on for so many years, and what it is that still continues, so that’s something that I’m working on right now.