I am writing to share some very important news and to appeal for your solidarity and support.
As the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network marks its 20th anniversary, we face an unprecedented challenge with recent news of a drastic cut in funding under Canada’s federal AIDS strategy — a cut that significantly undermines our ability to continue our work in defending and promoting human rights in the response to HIV.
For most of its history, the Legal Network has been seen by the federal government as a valuable partner in Canada’s response to HIV, given our expertise in challenging the inequities that fuel the HIV epidemic and addressing the legal questions and concerns of people living with HIV, front-line agencies and policy-makers alike.
With previous support under the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada, the Legal Network has developed high-quality resources widely used by AIDS service organizations, public health professionals, lawyers and thousands of people living with or vulnerable to HIV and AIDS across the country and around the world.
But it has become increasingly difficult in recent years to secure support for the human rights work that is at the core of our mission. For example, activities to protect the human rights of some of those most vulnerable to HIV, such as access to harm reduction services for people who use drugs and for people in prison, appear to have been deemed de facto un-fundable, as has any activity deemed to be “advocacy.” Indeed, as we have been advised explicitly in recent weeks, it now appears the government will not fund any activity that may produce a resource that could be used for advocacy.
The implications of such an approach are disturbing, to say the least. Since the onset just over thirty years ago, the HIV epidemic has highlighted starkly the role that ignorance and fear play in fuelling prejudice and discrimination, and the critical importance of empowering communities with information – including information they need to defend their human rights to equitable access to effective HIV prevention and treatment services. The history of the epidemic has also demonstrated the crucial role of community organizations in protecting human rights and ensuring government policies support effective measures to treat people living with HIV and prevent new infections.
For the past 20 years, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has been dedicated to this cause. Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, co-director of AIDS-Free World and the founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, has called the Legal Network “a global leader in advancing the cause of protecting, respecting and fulfilling the rights of people affected by and living with HIV/AIDS.”
However, in the latest round of Federal Initiative funding reviews, our proposal was subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny at the highest levels within Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada — the only proposal from a national AIDS organization to receive such scrutiny.
Finally, months after all other proposals had been reviewed (and most of them largely approved), we recently received news that only a few select activities in our proposal would be eligible for funding. This represents a significant defunding of the Legal Network from previous years — a cut of two-thirds.
Virtually all of the activities – including activities previously supported by government funding – were deemed ineligible for funding because the educational resources to be produced might be used for advocacy. Even those activities which have been approved are subject to restrictions on which human rights issues may be addressed. For example, addressing the human rights of certain communities is not permitted, even though they are recognized explicitly in the government’s own AIDS strategy as communities particularly affected by HIV.
Despite this, we remain committed to our vision — a world in which the human rights of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS are fully realized, and in which laws and policies facilitate HIV prevention, care, treatment and support.
You can help us realize this vision by taking action. Become a member and make a donation today.
Since 1992, the Legal Network has been fighting to ensure that all people enjoy the fundamental right to the highest attainable standard of health, as per international law. We intervene on complex issues that affect the lives of thousands of people around the world. We are making advances on critical human rights issues through a combination of direct support work on individual cases, big-picture thinking, and legal research and analysis, as well as awareness-raising and education. Consider what we’ve done in the past year alone:
We spearheaded the campaign to fix Canada’s failed Access to Medicines Regime, to support developing countries responding to HIV and other treatable illnesses by supplying affordable generic drugs. This work continues in the year ahead with a new bill re-introduced in Parliament.
We’ve spoken out against the new federal “omnibus” crime bill that will ultimately result in more people with addictions behind bars, a recipe for entirely preventable damage to both individual and public health — and we continue to press the case for access to comprehensive HIV prevention services in prisons.
We’ve intervened on the landmark “D.C” case to the Supreme Court, fighting against the unjust criminalization of people living with HIV. “D.C” is one of the women we spotlight in our groundbreaking new documentary on the issue: “Positive Women – Exposing Injustice” .
We’re working, with partner organizations across the country, to deliver dozens of workshops for front-line workers and produce educational resources answering the many legal questions they confront in their work.
We’re regularly in the media, addressing important questions about HIV and challenging HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
But the major cut to our funding represents a significant blow to the sustainability of our work, at a time when the need is greater than ever. People are counting on the Legal Network to defend and promote sound public policies, rooted in evidence and human rights, to help curb stigma and discrimination, to promote access to care for those living with HIV, and to help stop the epidemic.
We ask, therefore, that you stand with us in solidarity by becoming a member and making a donation to our work by 15 August 2012.
If you were previously member but haven’t yet renewed your membership for 2012/13, please take a moment now to do so. If you are not currently a member, please join us in defending and promoting human rights by visiting www.aidslaw.ca/joinus.
Whether or not you are a member, you can support us by making a donation. Simply visit www.aidslaw.ca/donate.
Canadian NGOs are facing a difficult time, especially those who tackle important public issues and speak out for human rights. Funding cuts put many at risk of closing their doors. We will be using this opportunity and our 20th anniversary to bring together a united group of individuals, foundations and other supporters who understand how important it is for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network to continue its critical work towards fully realizing the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV.
But we cannot do this without your support. Please stand with us today. Take the first step — become a member, make a donation and learn more.
Our 20th anniversary is a pivotal moment for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. With your help, we will be able to keep fighting well into the future, on behalf of those who depend on the Legal Network and our commitment to human rights for all.
With appreciation for your support to date and in the future,
Richard Elliott, Executive Director
David Eby, President, Board of Directors