For a moment, thousands of Montrealers raised their right fists, listened to the bells of St. George Parish, and stood still, observing a moment of silence in memory of the millions lost to AIDS.
Montreal’s 13th annual AIDS Walk for Life was held Sunday. Despite grey skies and chilly morning temperatures, organizers estimated that between 13,000-15,000 people took place in the 7 km walk through downtown Montreal.
The Montreal walk was one of the largest of the 127 walks held across the country. The Farha Foundation, the organization in charge of the walk, raised $340,000 Sunday and plans to share the funds with 43 other Quebec AIDS organizations.
Louis-Michel Taillefer, a member of Farha, said that although the amount was a little less than expected, the organization expects the numbers to rise as fundraising continues until Dec. 1. By that time, organizers hope to have raised over $2 million for AIDS services and research nationwide.
“[The walk is] the single biggest fundraising event of the year” said Ken Monteith, executive director of Aids Community Care Montreal (ACCM).
ACCM is one group who receives funds from the walk. For them and many other AIDS organizations, the annual walk is essential for their group’s survival.
“We would never be able to do it on our own,” Monteith said. “[The walk is] a really visible way to show Montreal that AIDS is still a problem here.”
A variety of people turned out for this year’s walk, as crowds ranging from children in strollers to seniors took part. Large numbers of participants also came with groups from their workplaces, while others came with their families.
A Concordia presence was provided by a group of walkers from the Concordia Queer Union.
“It’s nice to see the diversity,” Monteith commented.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay gave a speech before taking starting line for the walk.
“We’re here to make a difference, there are too many people who are indifferent,” Tremablay announced.
Opposition leader Pierre Bourque and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe joined the mayor at the front line.
According to Farha, 20,000 Quebecers have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 6,000 suffer from AIDS. They estimate another 1,500 Quebecers will get HIV this year. The foundation is also concerned with the increasing infection rates among women, children and heterosexuals in the province. Farha said that 50 per cent of Canadian AIDS cases in woman and children are in Quebec.
“The disease is still around and there is no cure,” said Taillefer. “The walk and other fundraisers will be important until we find a cure.”
“The next case of infection could be your mother, sister, lover, husband, friend or your child,” said foundation President Pierre Mitchell.
The Farha Foundation also used the event to launch their next fundraising event, the red bracelet campaign. The small rubber bracelets, similar to the bracelets supporting cancer organizations, can be purchased at www.redbracelet.qc.ca