This article was first published in PositiveLite.com March 3, 2011.
Toronto – Home of the Big Buffoon
Sudbury, Ontario has its Big Nickel, Brighton, Ontario its Big Apple, Campbellford, Ontario has its big Toonie. Not to be outdone, Toronto has its Big Buffoon. And AIDS Action Now is taking him on.
Must admit I’m liking what’s been coming out of AIDS Action Now lately. For a while we weren't hearing a lot from them, but they seem reinvigorated lately, and activism in Canada lives again. In the last month, for instance, they’ve led a spirited defence of Bill C-393 (designed to provide poor nations with access to lifesaving generic drugs). Now they are up in arms against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s buffoonery at City Hall.
If you don’t know the background to this, Rob Ford was the sole dissenting vote in a motion which passed 44-1 (he being the one dissenting vote, of course) approving funding for $100,000 for HIV/syphilis prevention programming. This money, every cent of it, came from the Province, so there was no impact on the city’s budget. It’s an in-out transaction. But Rob Ford voted against it. True colours indeed.
Folks, let’s be clear, we have an enemy at city hall and his name is Rob Ford.
AIDS Actions Now’s open letter to Rob Ford is reproduced below. It’s good, although I wish it had been framed in the context of a much longer record of ant-HIV programming measures on Ford's part, which is summarized here:
It's interesting to learn, for example, that we've gone down this pathway before. In 2006 Ford was the sole councillor to vote against a motion by Kyle Rae, seconded by Pam McConnell, to put up three welcome banners over roadways for the 2006 International AIDS conference that was held in August 2006. The city did not require any extra funding to install these banners. The motion passed 32-1.
Anyway, here’s the letter:
Dear Rob Ford,
We are writing in response to your solitary vote last week against a 100% provincially funded, one-time, transfer in the amount of $100,000 to combat the ongoing elevated rates of HIV and syphilis in Toronto. You claimed your vote was in order to ‘protect tax payers’ money’, even if it was provincially funded . In light of your other requests to the province for funding (asking for $150 million to balance your budget), it’s hard not to see your vote and accompanying statements as an attack against people who are at risk for HIV and syphilis.
While we are all at risk of sexually transmitted infections, some of us are at greater risk because of social inequity, stigma, and discrimination. Many of these individuals are gay men, ‘low risk’ women, newcomers, Aboriginal peoples, and youth . Your actions suggest the health of people who are at risk for HIV and syphilis is not worth your time and our money, and this is a big concern for us. Furthermore, there are a number of ways in which your vote is based on inaccurate knowledge and poor economics.
First, prevention of HIV and syphilis has economic benefits. Studies estimate that an averted HIV infection saves approximately $150 000 in lifetime medical costs . Therefore, if this transfer averts just two HIV infections, it will have saved money.
Second, your assertion that your vote against this was in order to protect taxpayers’ concerns implies that you either believe people who are at risk for HIV and syphilis don’t pay tax, or that they do, but for some reason, their health issues are not important. This belief comes from a place of stigma and homophobia.
Almost 20,000 people have tested HIV-positive in Toronto since the beginning of the epidemic Many people continue to be at risk for HIV and syphilis. Prevention efforts are needed to help reduce the spread of these infections; your support for these efforts is important to help protect the health of vulnerable people – who are also taxpayers – and to society as a whole.
As a group of people affected by HIV, we invite you to meet with us so you can meet with people living with HIV/AIDS, people who are at risk for and have had syphilis, and so that your future decisions about HIV and syphilis prevention are more informed.
AIDS Action Now