Photo by Gustavo Hannecke
History was made on Dec 1, 2016 as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the Red Ribbon flag on Parliament Hill for the first time.
This story begins in Nov 2015. At that time I was in the position of Past Board Chair” of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO). Khaled Salam, ACO’s Executive Director, had convinced City Hall and our Mayor, Jim Watson, that the Red Ribbon Flag should be raised at City Hall. This did come to pass on Dec 1 2015.
Also, on that day ACO took part in the first annual Ottawa chapter of the Red Scarf Project. Our newly elected Federal Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott dropped by ACO’s drop in centre (The Living Room) and the local CBC news broadcast live during her visit. Khaled said to me at that time “This is only the beginning. Next year this flag needs to be raised on Parliament Hill and raised by our Prime Minister”. Well, a year later, that is exactly what has happened.
Justin Trudeau’s participation in this event was only confirmed 48 hours previously. Although it was quite cool and at times a light drizzle was falling, a sizeable crowd, including politicians from all levels of Government, were present on the Hill to witness this historic event.
It was very moving to see the PM walk out proudly wearing a red scarf made personally for him by Brigitte Charbonneau, the Volunteer lead on the Ottawa Red Scarf Project. Also present (and wearing red scarves) were Dr. Jane Philpott, the Federal Minister of Health, Jody Wison-Raybould, the Federal Minister of Justice, David Chernushenko, City of Ottawa Councillor Capital Ward, Dr. Julio Montaner, Director for the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, as well as several other Ministers and Members of Parliament.
Justin Trudeau said a few words and then raised the World AIDS Day flag. Following the flag raising the P.M. made a rather quick exit, which was rather disappointing. Next was the Minister of Health, who gave a somewhat moving speech, which included introducing the Minister of Justice and Dr. Julio Montaner.
The most moving speech, for me, came from Brigitte Charbonneau. I have known Brigitte for more than 15 years and consider her a good friend. She had confided in me that she was very nervous about making this speech but she had no need to be. She spoke from the heart and did a fantastic job. Her granddaughter must have thought so as well because as soon as Brigitte finished she ran up to the podium and gave Brigitte a hug.
One of the final speeches came from Capitol ward City Councillor, David Chernushenko, who announced that City Council had approved the building of an HIV/AIDS Monument at Marion Dewar Plaza (which is on the grounds of City Hall) and that the artists' design would be unveiled at ACO later in the afternoon.
The Ottawa Chapter of the Red Scarf Project has also more than doubled in size this year with close to 400 scarves being hand made by Volunteers infected and affected by HIV in not only Ottawa, but from places as far away as Nova Scotia. A group of Volunteers were out in the wee hours of the morning “Painting the Town Red” by placing scarves in prominent places throughout the city.
At noon ACO hosted a reception, in “the Living Room” (ACO’s drop-in centre). Approximately 50 people attended. The design for the newly announced Ottawa AIDS Memorial was unveiled by Gustavo Hannecke and Gustavo Antonio, the designing artists. We were told that the design had not yet been approved by City Hall, only the location. The hope is to have it built before July 2017. I can’t wait.
I returned home proud of my country, my city and last, but certainly not least, my AIDS Service Organization.
AIDS Committee of Ottawa, how are you going to top this next year?