2 min

The 519 changes its tune

'Lack of space' argument is obviously untrue

YOU DON'T LIKE THOSE REASONS? I GOT OTHERS. Community centre executive director Alison Kemper says original letter to HEAL wasn't quite specific enough. Credit: Tony Fong

The 519 has altered the reason for giving the boot to the bad-boys of AIDS activism – and that’s raising new questions over how space at the community centre is divvied up.

“In the [initial June 1998 rejection letter] we got, they talked about [how] ‘due to the high demands on our facilities not all groups who apply for space are approved,'” says Carl Strygg.

He’s a co-founder of HEAL (Health Education AIDS Liaison) Toronto, which holds the controversial view that HIV is unrelated to AIDS.

Strygg found the rejection odd.

“We had not had trouble booking space and time at the facility and we certainly noticed a few rooms available while we were having our meetings.”

HEAL asked to meet with the decision-makers. Instead, The 519 answered with another letter. And it confirmed that the initial reasoning was a lie.

This new letter’s dated November 25.

It reads: “The board does not hear ‘in person’ applications for space. It has twice considered your application and will allow its decision to stand. HEAL’s disruptive and disrespectful actions toward other groups were of great concern to the board.”

It was the first time HEAL had heard this reason – and Strygg says members were tidy and well behaved.

The 519’s executive director, Alison Kemper, says the first letter to HEAL should have given more detail.

However, the board makes the decision on who gets space – after getting a recommendation from a sub-committee. And it hears any appeals. HEAL has reached a dead end.

Kemper says about 20 groups get rejected space each year – for a variety of reasons.

¥ The forms must be completed appropriately.

¥ The group must be beyond the planning stages.

¥ And money-making operations aren’t allowed.

The board also bases its decisions on what members think the surrounding community wants.

“We tend to have a board made up of people who use The 519 and who are familiar with it and [they] try and make decisions on behalf of the larger community,” says Kemper.

Kemper refused to give Xtra a list of who’s been rejected, saying it isn’t readily available.

Freedom Of Animals is an animal rights group that made its premiere appearance on the centre’s March calendar. Political parties are allowed as long as no election’s going on. The Rosedale Liberals meet Mar 22.

But the Reform Party – the official opposition in the House Of Commons – might not be welcome.

“We have a policy that says you can’t discriminate and you can’t advocate discrimination,” says Kemper. “So, I think it would be a tough call on our part to figure out whether the Reform Party was advocating discrimination here – but they might or might not be allowed a space here.”

Applications are decided behind closed doors and, unlike a liquor license application, notice of who’s applying isn’t posted.

The whole process has left HEAL mystified. The group continues to meet at private homes.

“Our hands are effectively tied,” says Strygg. “We can’t use the space without permission – even though it’s a publicly funded space.”

The 519’s budget comes from the city.

The community centre is at (416) 392-6874. HEAL can be reached at (416) 406-4325.