I’m Thinking, “This is Going to Hurt!”: On ‘How Not to Deal with Grief’


From my friend Betty Ann on her Facebook page:

“This article deeply moved me…as I suspect it will for any of you who have been impacted by the kind of grief associated with multiple loss, deaths due to overdose and or HIV/AIDS. Rather than just clicking on “like”, can you write a few sentences in a comment? Maybe just something about how this article landed with you? Guess I’m lookin for a little peer support here…”

I know there are many stories related to this piece which could be written. Don’t be afraid to jog my memory or ask a question.

I URGE you to click on the following link and read:

Guest Post – How Not to Deal with Grief

Remember those days when we couldn’t decide how to go to a funeral and make sure a dying friend was okay?  Open casket versus closed? Cremation versus traditional burial?  Would it be okay to go a little over the top in church?  Someone else is sick?  I thought he’d killed himself.

“…those days…come screaming back out of nowhere. I don’t live with it; it lives in me. It is a part of me and makes me what I am. That does not mean I want it. I am not alone in this. And I am not alone in finding that loss accumulates and is sticky and hangs together like lumps of tar and sticks and sand on the beach after a storm.”

“…these thoughts, the ones of dead friends and loved ones, are in the heap in the back corner. They lurk behind the door with a skull and crossbones saying; “Fuck Off, Asshole,” in 72 pica. Then in smaller type: “You know who and what’s in here, so why don’t you just walk the fuck away?” And every so often I walk through that door for whatever reason and it takes days to recover.”

“People died around you. Repeatedly. Let me emphasize: Repeatedly. There were no protease inhibitors. No Truveda. Just blind hope, determination, anger, solidarity, organizing, guesswork and gambling on whether to take a drug or wait for the big one that will work — and die waiting. This was not a time of long-term sustainability.”

“I am not perfect. But I have found some happiness in my life, not by achieving resolution, but by acquiring wounds, then healing some and developing scar tissue that will always be there, and by just keeping going.”

My laptop feels too small for what I want to write. I need a full-sized keyboard to spread out my fingers as on the keyboard of a grand pipe organ. I know the feeling of not wanting to go through personal items and photographs of friends lost. But I also know it’s an irresistible tug sometimes. I more often than not know what it means just to still be here when I could have, should have been dead, with only analogies of Vegas or God’s perverse selection process as explanation. I reject both.

I know that “just keeping going” has taken a lot of courage for many people, so why not me, too? I accept that there have been times when it seemed much simpler to die than to just keep going. I’ve even wished I would have died long before now. But there are new things to work on, new struggles to wage, even while bearing all the scars of having nearly shit myself to death.

Lunch with Vito Russo


Disclaimer:  My memories have been assisted by Google and a piece of paper, 8-1/2″ x 11″ divided in half, on which is written the following:



After signing up for The Movie Network again recently, I came upon the film Vito: A Man For All Seasons.  I was immediately transported back to the early summer day in 1982 when I met the celebrated author, filmmaker and activist Vito Russo. It was at a very ambitious conference, at the U of T perhaps, put on by, among others, The Body Politic collective called “DOING IT! Lesbian & Gay Liberation in the 80s”.

Vito put to words, and obviously used film clips, what he had done in the book but had us riveted with laughter during the presentation and in the question and answer period which followed.

Because I was staying with a couple of the conference organizers for the weekend and, I’d like to recall, at 22 among the younger guys there I was invited to lunch with Vito – then in his 30s and a real looker!

We walked to a patio along the north side of Bloor, I’m guessing near Brunswick, perhaps Dooney’s.

This sheet of paper protrudes from my copy of Vito’s book “The Celluloid Closet – Homosexuality In The Movies” which had come out the previous year (as had I).  I described to him how upset I was that I had not remembered to bring the book along on my break from my then-dreary existence in St. Catharines.  Such, apparently, was the extent of my troubles back then!  He thought nothing of just folding a sheet of copy paper in half and writing the cute note.  This story goes with it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

While I’d like to launch into a tale of love unleashing itself into a passionate, long-distance relationship, as we sat across from one another, I can’t even allow my “based on actual events” note to take me there, as much as I’d like to.

He vented about Ronald Reagan.  (By comparison we were experiencing the second go-round of Pierre Trudeau, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms round at that, with Conservative Brian Mulroney only in our nightmares.)

The documentary inevitably moved to the beginning of the AIDS crisis and its eventual taking of his partner Jim Sevcik in his thirtieth year.  That same year, 1985, Vito himself was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma and died in 1990, just a year-and-a-half or so after my diagnosis.  But what a difference there has been, both in opportunistic infections and in our respective treatment options.

Vito went on to become a founding member of the media-monitoring group Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

In 1987 Vito, Larry Kramer and ten others founded ACT UP!, the AIDS activist organization which has been at the centre of some of the biggest developments in AIDS anger, compassion and care.  A clip in the film is of Vito shouting,

“People are dying of homophobia.  They’re dying of Jesse Helms.  They’re dying of Ronald Reagan…AIDS is a test of who we are as a people!”

Given all he went on to do in his AIDS-shortened life I count it a privilege to remember the joy of that day on a patio in Toronto and the personal touch of his autograph.

Shaun Fryday, whose faith community emulates his personal hospitality, to be this year’s recipient of the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award


Rev Shaun Fryday has been selected by Montreal’s United Theological College to receive the award, established by my late brother, at the UTC Convocation on May 8th, 2013. Fittingly, the ceremonies will take place in Shaun’s congregation of Beaconsfield United Church.

When he received the news, Shaun is said to have been deeply moved, recalling Craig as one of his closest friends and how the award makes Craig seem “very present”.

Craig died on May 9, 2007 as the result of a fall fifteen days earlier which caused traumatic brain injuries. Like me, he had been retired since the mid-1990s when the stress and fatigue of living with HIV had become too much to bear in his capacity as a United Church minister in west-end Montreal. It was shortly thereafter that he first made plans to establish the award, which would follow his death.

In a letter to the college, in which he outlined terms of reference for the award, Craig wrote:

“…it is my intention and desire that this award be presented in recognition of the particular ministries of gay and lesbian people both within the formal, organized structures of the Christian Church and without…to honour those whose life’s work has been particularly distinguished in its clear embodiment of such central Gospel values as personal courage and integrity, life-affirming faith and spirituality, an unswerving commitment to social justice and a sustainable environment and solidarity with those who are poor or marginalized.

“The conditions of eligibility for potential recipients of this award are intentionally and necessarily exclusive in one important respect – the person being honoured must be able and willing to be publicly recognized as a lesbian or gay man. I am sadly aware of the fact that because of the current climate within some churches and certain elements of our society, this condition effectively excludes a good many competent and highly gifted people who are eminently deserving but who do not feel they can risk coming out of the closet at this time. I am all too aware of the oppression many of them suffer and the peculiar irony in the fact that I am creating an award for which I myself would not have been eligible for most of my professional career in the Church because of my own inability during those years to be safely and publicly self-declared as a gay man.”

Craig went on to say that he believed the award would have the potential to create positive, visible role models for gay and lesbian Christians. He poignantly recalled the United Church’s much-debated decision in 1988 to no longer exclude LGBT persons from consideration as ministers. The final decision was made at a Church-wide council meeting in Victoria, which Craig attended with much trepidation, referring to LGBT members in the third person.

Much has, thankfully, changed since then – the Church evenly electing an openly gay man as Moderator last August!

In nominating Shaun, his congregation cited his vision and commitment to numerous social justice initiatives, from guiding the parish in becoming an LGBT-affirming congregation to the creation two years ago of an LGBTQ Youth Centre, a first for Montreal’s West Island (and for any church!). The centre has more recently expanded its outreach to family members of the LGBTQ community as well as to LGBT adults seeking to break out of isolation.

A couple of paragraphs from a congregation member’s supporting letter speak volumes:

“…after working at the front lines of the African AIDS epidemic I needed solace and community…Shaun was not only open about his sexuality, he was willing to explore the injustices the world visited on LGBTQ people and explore how the experience of being ‘different’ in the world might offer us all opportunity to live more compassionately and justly…

“But I also would like to make clear that Reverend Fryday does not confine his zeal for social justice in ministry merely to issues directly impacting the LGBTQ population and their families. He has been a fierce advocate for the indigenous people of the Philippines, and has determinedly brought their plight into our consciousness at Beaconsfield United Church. Indigenous communities in far away places are easy communities for comfortable Canadians to ignore. But Reverend Fryday has demonstrated that to do so is merely to perpetuate the systems of inequality that plague our planet, destroy communities and, ultimately, our planet. And when injustices on this scale occur, we cannot be silent.”

Shaun’s c.v. concludes, “I have a number of leisure activities that I enjoy pursuing. Particularly, I am an avid reader, I enjoy writing, and I love to cook (and eat!)”

Shaun is a tall, and in other ways, large man – self-deprecating, too!

His hospitality figured prominently in the agonizing days that Craig lay dying in Montreal’s Neurological Institute. Craig’s partner, Claude, and sister Lynn kept constant vigil each day asking other would-be visitors (other than we siblings) to respect their privacy. With understanding and compassion illustrative of his pastoral care, Shaun prepared and delivered delicious home-cooked meals a considerable distance each day to the walk-up Craig and Claude shared in the “Le Plateau” district. I was privileged to partake in some of these meals, both in Montreal and Perth (those we took up there for Craig’s burial).

Craig’s family is proud to anticipate Shaun receiving this award!

Two names to be added to Craig Chaplin Memorial Award


This spring’s presentation of the award in my brother’s memory will include a couple of firsts – two individuals are being cited and they’re from across the Canada-U.S. border in neighbouring Vermont.

To be more accurate, one-half of the couple of Dr. Delores Barbeau and Carol Olstad, R.N. will be honoured posthumously as Carol, who incidentally was a Canadian born in Alberta, unfortunately died last October in their adopted home of Weston, Vermont.

The two met in 1983 while working in strife-torn Bolivia, Delores as a Maryknoll nun-turned-physician and Carol a registered nurse working under the auspices of the Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board.

Delores had only lived and worked with Bolivians since 1969 and, given the political climate, knew how much safer it would be to avoid becoming attached to Carol.

Bolivian authorities were already suspicious, to say the least, of church aid workers in their midst (let alone white North Americans); not easily dissuaded from their presumptions of CIA connections. Imagine if they knew they were lesbians!

But the Bolivian Ministry of Health assigned the two to work together, within a year of their first meeting, in a remote tropical jungle.

Not more than a year later the government had put Delores on a hit list and the two fled Bolivia, travelling to Nicaragua to work for five years alongside the people defending their dignity and rights against American-backed rebel forces out to destroy the successful Sandinista government.  (This corrects my earlier history-fogged equating of the rebels as the more courageous side to be on!)

In 1991 Delores and Carol returned to the United States, first New York and Massachusetts and then Vermont, sharing their lives openly as a couple while continuing to live the “social gospel” lessons of their respective faiths, even if no longer so affiliated. (They have since enjoyed the community of the Monks of Western Priory in Vermont where Carol was solemnly and happily remembered following her death in October of last year.)

In a letter to loved ones about her experiences, Delores concludes:

So. That was Bolivia.

What was it like?
It changed my life forever.
I learned to love.
I learned to look at things in a new way and walked in many different shoes.
I learned other definitions for family.
I learned that there were priorities.
I learned to dance.
I stood before mass graves, and buried many friends.
I learned what fear really felt like.
…and in all of this I never knew a time when I did not know God.

The 2012 Convocation of United Theological College, during which the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award is presented (and Delores will deliver the Convocation Address), will be held at Summerlea United Church on Wednesday, May 9 – five years to the day since Craig’s death.

With such an early spring, maybe his favourite irises will be in bloom.

Adieu Madeleine Parent


Aerial view of  Montreal Cottons Valleyfield works. Copyright undetermined as per citation at Université de Sherbrooke's Bilan du Siècle <http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca>

Aerial view of  Montreal Cottons Valleyfield works, 1950. Copyright undetermined as per citation at Université de Sherbrooke’s Bilan du Siècle

I was saddened to learn of the death last night of the iconic Québec labour activist Madeleine Parent. She was 93 so I knew that when I wrote this tribute to her more than five years ago I would more than likely outlive her.

One thing is certain – the legacy of Madeleine Parent will continue to live on for many years to come!

So three lawyers walk into the Ontario Legislature…


…but this is no joke!

There’s a friendly exercise each morning that the Ontario Legislature sits when Members have the opportunity to introduce guests seated in the gallery – family members of one of the high school student pages, perhaps a visiting township reeve, or dignitaries representing other governments, be they in Canada or elsewhere.

It must have seemed surreal, then, for Toronto Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Glen Murray, his voice choking up even as he began to speak, to introduce (to a standing ovation from all sides) two fellow lawyers – Douglas Elliott, representing EGALE Canada, and Adrian Jjuuko of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Uganda. This is the organization that has been leading the opposition to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill often called the “Kill the Gays bill” in the media which, though delayed last year, was reintroduced a few weeks ago with all of its worst provisions, including the death penalty. It could become law in Uganda within 30 days and the government has continued its harassment of LGBT groups while it waits.

Mr. Jjuuko, although heterosexual himself, risks persecution when he returns home later today just for being the strong advocate that he is.

Whatever other pressing matters may have been discussed at Queen’s Park following these introductions today I did not hear them.

For further information and to positively agitate see:

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

The New Civil Rights Movement

Final tributes to Jack Layton in pictures


It was an emotion-packed, life-affirming day.

There are some blog posts I’d like to forget – on returning to the NDP


I’ve always tried to make this blog somewhat of a record of my life, however fragmented, warts and all.  Here in the archives is my defiant abandonment of the New Democratic Party for, let’s say, greener pastures.  However right it felt at the time, and for a couple of by-elections and a general election after, I have been back to embracing my NDP sentiments for a while now.

Unless I am mistaken, my leaving had only minimal impact on the party at the national level.  However, at the level of my local riding association on which I served as a member of the Executive, there are amends to be made when the time is right.

This is all swirling through my conscience this week as Canada observes the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton.  Everything from his departing letter to Canadians to the public outpouring of affection for Jack-the-man serve to point out what a great loss the country has suffered.

In one of several meetings with him, I remember running into Jack in the corridors at the national convention held in Quebec City a few years ago.  I had something, forgotten now, to discuss with him.  Surrounded by his closest aides, anxious to continue their walk, he pulled me to his side and said, “Walk with me.”  We conversed, I was satisfied, and the convention proceeded as he headed to the stage.  I don’t know whether Jack always knew my name, if ever, but he always knew my face and knew my passions, particularly as an AIDS activist.

We grew up about forty kilometers, and nine years, apart – Jack in Hudson, me in Valleyfield.  Hudson is on the Ottawa River, Valleyfield on the St. Lawrence.  Friends moved up there midway through high school so I used to cycle across the flat St. Lawrence Valley and make the huge climb up into the hills which hugged the Ottawa.  It was an athletic feat for someone not otherwise very athletic!  I particularly remember making the trip to see the Olympic torch run through Hudson on its way to the 1976 games in Montreal.

I look forward to what is sure to be an outstanding send-off to Jack on Saturday, and to intentionally re-connecting with NDP friends in the days ahead.

A letter to Canadians from the Honourable Jack Layton


August 20, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

30 years “out” – February 5 (when Toronto cops swept through the baths)


If ever I’ve had a “But for the grace of God, there go I” occasion (even though I have problems with that expression) it would have to have been February 5, 1981 – thirty years ago today.

At 11 p.m. that night, more than 150 police carried out simultaneous raids on four of Toronto’s most popular bath houses, arresting close to 300 men. “Operation Soap”, as the police named the investigation, is very well recalled here by Pink Triangle Press. It was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970 and the late Rick Bébout’s account of the raids and the aftermath live on here. This was long before police “sensitivity training”.

Had it not been a weeknight I might very well have been swept up in the raids as I was a frequent visitor to bath houses on my almost-weekly trips from St. Catharines to Toronto bars and baths.

Until the events of that night I was leading a tortuous double life as a twenty-one-year-old, secretly trying to extinguish my homosexuality during the week as part of a conservative church and inevitably giving in to my natural instincts on the weekend (or whenever my days off happened to be) in the anonymity offered by the big city across the lake.

I came out to my parents, writing them a letter.

I was livid when the pastor of the church wrote a letter to the local paper praising the actions of the Toronto police. He was driven from the church not too long after due to an unrelated split in the congregation.

Assuming that television cameras would catch me protesting, following the raids, I came out to my parents, writing them a letter. Their positive response included them telling me that my brother, Craig, had come out to them a few years earlier. Understandably, neither they nor Craig were interested in telling me so long as I was part of the fundamentalist church.

The bath raids brought me out of the closet, frankly feeling more angry than liberated, and I count myself among the thousands in Toronto who can trace their passion for gay liberation politics through the tumultuous events of the raids and the subsequent massive demonstrations. I hung out with Rick, Chris Bearchell (who gave me a button which read “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”) and others, at a few meetings/parties at The Body Politic. I later wrote, infrequently granted, for TBP (the excellent forerunner to Pink Triangle Press’ Xtra!) – particularly when police arrested men having sex in public washrooms in Welland and St. Catharines.

Niagara Regional Police released the names and addresses of the accused. Most media outlets ran them – before trial – including my employer, but not before I engaged in a heated argument with my boss. He insisted on “the public’s right to know” (read gossip) while I argued that the extreme sensitivity of the charges far exceeded the seriousness of the allegations.

Very few of the accused fought the charges. In rural west St Catharines in January, 1985 a 42-year-old father of two, and a Sunday school teacher, was found dead in his car, having soaked himself with gasoline and set off his lighter. Just days earlier, he had been at the Fairview Mall. Three hours before his suicide, he had been charged with gross indecency.

He missed his trial; didn’t enter a plea. He was never convicted and yet he, and many others, had already been punished by the police and the media. The St. Catharines Standard was an outstanding exception, not only witholding the names of the accused but also doing a series of reports on the phenomenon of anonymous sex, even “tearoom sex”.

It was heart-warming to find so many of the activists with whom I had cut my political teeth, in the aftermath of the bath raids, now playing key roles in Toronto’s response to the AIDS crisis.

Using a pseudonym, so as not to upset management at the St. Catharines radio station where I was employed (I’d already caused a ruckus by “coming out” in the local paper), I worked with other activists on various information and political action campaigns through my years there in the 1980s.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, and then AIDS, not long after moving to Toronto in 1988 it was heart-warming to find so many of the activists with whom I had cut my political teeth, in the aftermath of the bath raids, now playing key roles in Toronto’s response to the AIDS crisis. Rick Bébout was among them until his death in 2009.

The Pride parades in Toronto, now held each June, got their biggest shot in the arm following the raids. What had only loosely been called a “community” was now a community indeed. We became very adept organizers and campaigners of all sorts.

Another of the lasting legacies of the raids is the almost universal disdain with which the Toronto Sun is held in the LGBT community. The paper, and most notably columnist Claire Hoy, were constant cheerleaders of the brains behind the raids at the Attorney-General’s office and Metro Toronto Police’s 52 Division. Ironically relations with the police have greatly improved over the years.

The Sun? For “old-timers”, at least, not so much.

What follows is a full-length documentary about the bath raids entitled “Track Two”. I well remember how proud the community was when it was released. It is available, and in smaller segments as well, from Xtra‘s YouTube site.

In fact I’ll lead off with one of those segments because I thought it was so funny and I was mere steps away from the main subject, author Margaret Atwood, during the filming. I even remember that date, February 20.  This was an event at St. Lawrence Market North, a fundraiser for legal defense and for future political advocacy. (The evening also featured a then up-and-coming a cappella group The Nylons.)

Enjoy Margaret’s deadpan!

Now the full 87 minute documentary:

“It Gets Better” tops 2010 list


Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller started something in 2010 that Mark Kelley and the CBC Connect crew put at the top of Connect 10: A  Countdown of the most popular stories online in 2010.

Responding to highly-publicized cases of bullying and suicides of gays and lesbians, the “It Gets Better” project was launched with this video on September 21.

It is difficult to watch this and not remember, with horror, the pain of high school.

I have heard of at least two suicides this autumn by people closer to my own age still haunted by bullying, present-day homophobia or other trauma in their youth.

There are, of course, many others who do not attract the same attention as did those in the United States which, in rapid succession, followed a similar pattern: homophobic violence or harassment and then suicide.

LGBT community activists in Toronto chimed in with an “It Gets Better” video of their own:

A simple gesture over the holidays that could make a world of difference


 

I know that I was not the only Canadian very proud a few years back when Parliament passed legislation designed to make it easier for generic pharmaceutical companies to ship life-saving AIDS medications, and others, to developing nations of the south.

So it was rather shameful to learn that, so far, only one shipment – to one country – has been made.

As someone who has benefited from every advancement in HIV treatment since my diagnosis in 1989, even when that was just grasping to hope in 1992 with careful attention to symptoms by my HIV/AIDS specialist, I find it extremely offensive and immoral that this wealth of research and hope has not been shared with people no less entitled than me to the best possible health.

We can do something about this.

(1) Share this video far and wide.

 

 

(2) Visit Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network .

(3) Contact your Member of Parliament (information is provided at the above web site).  Feel free to tell them Kenn sent you!

 

All of this can be done in the time it would take to wrap one gift – and what a meaningful gift it would be!

Now with pictures: Activists warmly received – okay met with mild bemusement – during very cold “Die-in” for Bill C-393


Feel free to share the video below. With Parliament now on Christmas recess, we have the entire month of January to make our views known.

It was such a cold walk down to Yonge-Dundas Square this morning I was glad to be able to walk the full block south from Gerrard to Gould Streets through the corridors of Jorgenson Hall at Ryerson University.

I was dressed for the outdoors reminiscent of my childhood in Quebec.  Fluorescent red earmuffs, attached to a head band, were topped off with a black toque.  Beneath a red nylon ski jacket I wore a light turtleneck sweater underneath a warm fleece sweater.  I wore my usual blue jeans but underneath was a pair of what I call Truro trousers (Truro, Nova Scotia being the home of Stanfield’s underwear) also known as long-johns or long underwear.  My feet were covered with a pair each of cotton and wool socks, and I wore my dependable snow boots for their warmth, despite a total lack of snow.

Arriving at Yonge-Dundas Square, crossroads of the inner city and obscene consumption, I was greeted by a number of the organizers of today’s event – Bill C-393 Student Coalition, AIDS Action Now! and the HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

photo: Andrea Houston

Yonge-Dundas “die-in”

“Die-in” protest stops traffic at Yonge and Dundas

Toronto AIDS drug protest gets attention in Ottawa

Even with instructions having been emailed out and uploaded to the Facebook event page, we were handed index card-sized pieces of paper recapping how we would flood the intersection during its pedestrian scramble phases.  (Every third pedestrian signal is one in which anyone can cross from any direction to any corner of the intersection.)

photo: Claudia Medina

A whistle blew each time and about thirty of us headed to the centre of the intersection, with our signs supporting C-393, and for about ten seconds we either lay flat on the pavement (the classic die-in position), or got down on one knee or sat down with our legs straight out.  I was determined to lie flat, despite concerns I wouldn’t get up fast enough.  I succeeded for several consecutive scrambles, even starting to get up before the whistle blew, but eventually I just went down on one knee (as in the above picture) – that is until the end of this half hour exercise when we had decided, that during the final die-in, we would refuse to get up when the lights changed, leaving honking motorists to wait for several minutes.

photo: Claudia Medina

This was so well organized that the handful of police keeping an eye on things were in-the-know and assured our safety when bewildered motorists began honking their horns.

photo: Claudia Medina

photo: Claudia Medina

Bill C-393 is a private member’s bill in Parliament aimed at fixing “Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime” (CAMR) by cutting through the red tape blocking its effectiveness. The bill’s “one-license solution” would allow makers of low-cost, generic AIDS medications to distribute them to multiple countries in need. The House of Commons must restore this key provision, gutted from the original legislation,when debate on the bill resumes.

Because of too much red tape only one shipment of AIDS drugs has made its way to one country since the original bill was passed during the Paul Martin government.

The re-activation of an AIDS activist


While no one could say that I had ever completely stopped my AIDS activism I have, I would suggest, limited myself in recent years to writing or speaking about it on a smaller scale.

It was consistent, determined protests – some of which I was a part of – that led to government speeding up access to HIV/AIDS medicines still in development here for those of us desperate to try them out (these were the days before what became known as the “cocktail” of treatment drugs). I remember picketing the Ontario Ministry of Health for access to the now-primitive AZT medication and that was before I knew my own sero-status. Then, post-cocktail release, I protested with others who could not afford the thousands of dollars per month these drugs cost – leading to the Trillium Drug Program in Ontario (and similar ones in other provinces) which helps not just people with HIV/AIDS but anyone else whose prescription drug costs are prohibitive.

Then in 2006, during a workshop at the national NDP convention on Canada’s role in the world, I almost tearfully spoke of the need for Canada to assist countries of the south who were dealing with HIV/AIDS on a scale we cannot fathom here, and with precious little hope of doing so with treatments as expensive as our own. In what has become my mantra, of sorts, on this issue I asked, “What makes me any more deserving of these treatments than anyone else, anywhere else in the world?” It was around this time, and in the context of a non-partisan debate, that our federal Parliament passed legislation making it possible to ease patent restrictions on these medicines so that generic versions could be made available at drastically reduced costs.

Not one pill has made it out of Canada
, so the sad story goes, although I have also heard of one shipment. This is obviously outrageous, whichever is correct. A bill before Parliament this week, Bill C-393, aims to change this.

So it is with considerable excitement that I look forward to tomorrow’s action at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets over the lunch hour. This note on logistics went out early this afternoon:

To: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, AIDS Action Now!, and Bill C-393 Student Coalition Organizers

Thank you everyone for all your help thus far in organizing the Bill C-393 “Die-In”. The event is virtually a day away. Find the final details below!

1. Media & Targeting

-Our media representatives are Richard Elliott (relliott@aidslaw.ca), Jolene Cushman (jo.cushman@gmail.com), and Tyler Blacquiere (t.blacquiere@gmail.com), and they will be standing at the Dundas Square corner of the Yonge and Dundas intersection, beginning at 12:00 pm.

-Media Advisories were sent out Friday morning

-Press Releases and follow-ups will be sent out on Monday morning

-Our own photographer and videographer will be on site

-All Members of Parliament will be sent an email with the advisory and press release on SUNDAY

2. Roles (have been filled)

-4 Team Leaders

-4 Team Assistants

-4 Marshalls

-3 Media Reps: Jolene, Richard, Tyler

-1 Whistler, who will also be a Marshall

-2 Banner Holders – Can be identified at the event


3. Logistics of the “Die-In” Itself:

After visiting Dundas Square, we have found out that we only have 20 seconds for each “die-in”

i) There will be four teams for each corner of the intersection. Each team will have a Team Leader and Team Assistant.

ii) When the Scramble Lights go on, two people will run to the middle of the intersection and lie down. At the same time, the rest of their team will take a few steps and then sit down in a crouched position. (This is the only option since time is short!)

iii) At 7 seconds remaining, the head Marshall will whistle and everyone will return to their corner.

iv) We will continue for 30 minutes

4. Schedule for The Day

11:45 am – AAN Members, Leanne, Anda, Ahmad, Olesia, Sahar will be at King’s College Road/College at the U of T Gates. They will divide people into 4 teams.

11:50 am – Everyone starts to walk to Yonge and Dundas

12:00 pm – Media Reps (Richard, Tyler and Jolene) arrive at Dundas Square. They divide the participants who are there into the 4 teams.

12:15 pm – All participants are at Dundas Square. Sahar gives a quick brief on Bill C-393, points out Media Reps, says that we will return to the Square at 1:00 pm after the action

12:20 pm – Everyone is separated into their teams. Team leaders brief their teams.

12:30 pm – Everyone takes their places. Action begins.

1:00 pm – Action ends. Participants who wish to do so file back to the Square. De-brief and thank people. If people want, we can do Postcard Outreach.

5. Postcard Outreach

After the action around 1:00 pm, we will have an optional postcarding outreach in the area. Can HIV/AIDS Legal Network folks bring some postcards along?

Thanks,

Sahar

“Die” for access to generic AIDS meds in the poorest of countries – it won’t kill you!


Over the lunch hour this coming Monday the Bill C-393 Student Coalition, along with members of AIDS ACTION NOW and other allies, will join in creative protest in support of vital legislation before Canada’s Parliament.

Bill C-393 is designed to reform CAMR (Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime), the legislation passed back in the dying days of the Paul Martin government which would ease patent restrictions on HIV/AIDS treatments so that the poorest of the poor in the world could have access to generic forms of some of the medicines which have worked so well, so far, for the rest of us.

Why hasn’t the Canadian government (and too many Opposition party members) supported C-393?  Oh, could it be the Big Pharma plants in their ridings?  (They’re the ones in the suburbs of Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere with conflicts-of-interest disguised as groomed landscapes that are the envy of golf courses.)

Bill C-393, a Private Members Bill that could finally facilitate access to low-cost generic drugs, with the support of 80% of Canadians, risks being abandoned in a vote in the House of Commons on Thursday, December 16th.

10 million people living with HIV/AIDS do not have access to live-saving anti-retroviral drugs. As I have said over the years, while I am grateful for all that these medications have done for me, I am no more (nor less) deserving of them than are those with the same treatable conditions anywhere else.

Don’t get me wrong -the medication regime is not a panacea to HIV infection but we know how well they can work in people who do become infected.

On Monday, “flash mob” participants, dressed in red, will lie down and “die” at regular intervals in the middle of the Yonge-Dundas “scramble” intersection to bring attention to the lives lost due to a lack of medicines. (I’ve been promised assistance in getting back up, if required.)

WHO?

This “die-in” flash mob is organized by a student coalition at the University of Toronto with the support of AIDS ACTION NOW!

HOW can you participate?

1. Meet at 11:45 a.m. at the gates of the University of Toronto on College Street for a walk together to Yonge-Dundas.

OR (for those of us coming from other directions)

2. Meet at Yonge-Dundas Square at 12:15 pm on the south-east corner of the intersection.

Questions? Email sahargolshan@hotmail.com for more information.

*Remember to WEAR RED and to dress WARMLY*

For more on Bill C-393: http://www.aidslaw.ca/EN/camr/index.htm

Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=109405225799696