Agenda 2. Leadership in the AIDS response
Delivered by Trevor Stratton, NGO North America
Thank you, Madam Chair,
And thank you also to Michel Sidibé for your official visit to Canada where, in Ottawa, you launched the release of the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report: BLIND SPOT – Addressing a blind spot in the response to HIV: Reaching out to men and boys. In this era of shrinking space for civil society, I can also tell you that the 2-hour Civil Society Dialogue you also hosted at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health was very well received.
This event, open to the general public, provided a safe space for civil society to voice their concerns about the HIV response domestically and internationally. This opportunity provided members of the communities of African, black and the Caribbean decent, Indigenous peoples, people living with HIV, key populations and many others to relay their views on progress and challenges of the Canadian response to HIV and AIDS.
Recently, Canada has shown a good example in reforming drug policy. For example, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down some mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug related offences and repealed a law against safe drug consumption sites. Now people who use drugs can access consumption sites without fear of arrest and prosecution. These legal frameworks are now much more supportive and less punitive of our citizens who use drugs.
However, we also still have punitive laws in Canada such as the prohibition of prison-based needle and syringe programs. These laws have disparate impacts on women, Indigenous peoples and ethnic communities. And despite the best advice based on scientific evidence from UN bodies and the Canadian Department of Justice, Canada continues to prosecute people living with HIV for not disclosing their HIV status before engaging in sexual behaviours. Let us be clear that people living with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load are unable to transmit HIV through sexual activity. Additionally, Canada’s current laws on sex work purport to be about criminalizing sex customers and pimps but continue to criminalize the sex workers themselves.
To make real progress in the AIDS response, what Key Populations need is less rhetoric and more evidence-based initiatives from governments. The world will only achieve the goal of getting to zero by dispensing with business as usual.