Quebec’s HIV/AIDS Services Continue Being Defunded

The COCQ-SIDA has rung the alarm about its funding crisis from the federal and provincial governments.

There are now less than five months remaining until the funding cycle for local HIV/AIDS services from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is renewed on Apr. 1, 2022. The Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA), a representational body of Quebec’s HIV/AIDS community organizations, is concerned about the deadline’s impacts.

The organization has been pointing at a crisis revolving around issues of funding. Unfortunately, rates of HIV/AIDS transmission across Canada have been on the rise for quite some time. Since 2003, Canada has implemented new programs to fight the virus in a multitude of ways, spanning from treatment to prevention. Members of Parliament urged the Harper government to increase funding, but its response was underwhelming according to doctors and activists. In 2016, the Trudeau government, in a bid to balance its  funding, shifted financial focus to prevention rather than treatment, creating huge gaps from which groups like the COCQ-SIDA are now feeling the burden. In 2016, 42 treatment-oriented groups saw their funding vanish in this shift. Because funding hasn’t increased in years according to the COCQ-SIDA, organizations that require assistance will only require more resources as cases continue on an upward trend.

The current method used by Ottawa to supply local groups with funding is primarily two-fold: HIV/AIDS service funds are distributed by the Community Action Fund (CAF) and the Harm Reduction Fund (HRF). The CAF is given over $26 million by the federal government, which they allot by granting organizations with five-year funding contracts. The HRF gets $7 million to distribute in the form of three to five-year contracts with a maximum of $250,000 for a single group annually. The COCQ-SIDA’s primary issue is that these numbers have not evolved to reflect the times.

“The impact of the decisions of the PHAC, within the framework of the 2021 calls for submissions for the CAF and the HRF, means that several member organizations of the COCQ-SIDA [who are] well rooted in their communities and [have] varied expertise find themselves victims of this chronic underfunding. The situation is even more serious in the context of underfunding at the provincial level,” said Ken Monteith, director general of COCQ-SIDA.

Due to the issue of increased demand and stagnant finances, many groups are struggling. On top of these issues, contracts have expiration dates. After those three or five-year deals, many organizations might not have their funding renewed, forcing their operations to be scaled down. “We are going to have to reduce our staff very significantly, to the point of having to consider closing the organization,” said Charlène Aubé from IRIS Estrie, an organization in Sherbrooke whose contract was not renewed.

Several other centres across Quebec will be faced with harsh realities this spring. Thousands of Quebecers living with HIV/AIDS, as well as others who might contract the disease will be impacted by these policy decisions in the very near future.

Graphic Courtesy of Rose-Marie Dion

Student Life

If you’re planning on getting busy this Valentine’s Day, stay protected

Spread the love, not the disease

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, some of us who are romantically involved are preparing to spend the day with that special someone. While indulging your partner is important, so is keeping in mind the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or disease (STD).

According to Women’s Health, the difference between STIs and STDs are whether symptoms are present, and ailments are only described as diseases when symptoms are present. “You can have an infection, such as chlamydia, without symptoms,” said Angela Jones, M.D., an ob-gyn at Healthy Woman Obstetrics and Gynecology in Monmouth, NJ. Since 2005, the Canadian government has recorded a rise in reported STD/STI cases, mainly cases concerning chlamydia, which is the most reported sexually transmitted disease in Canada. In 2009-2010, 68 per cent of sexually active 15 to 24 year-olds reported using a condom the last time they had intercourse, according to Statistics Canada.

The World Health Organization states that there are more than 30 viruses, bacterias and parasites that can be transmitted sexually. Of these, eight are the cause of most reported STD/STI cases. Four are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. The other four—hepatitis B, herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human papillomavirus (HPV)—are viral infections and are not curable.

“While most people think that STDs[/STIs] are only transmittable through sexual intercourse, like penetration, there are really, in fact, many ways of getting them,” said Charlotte Gagné, a sexology student at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “For example, [they can be transmitted through] skin to skin contact, blood and sharing sex toys. It can also be passed down from mother to child.”

One of the best ways to avoid contracting and spreading STDs/STIs is to use protection. Condoms are accessible, relatively affordable and they come in various styles that can make using protection fun. Trojan has ribbed condoms geared for female pleasure, their thinnest condom called the ‘bareskin’ and even benzocaine-lubed condoms for climax control, all meant to maximize pleasure. Just be sure to always check condoms for rips or tears, as well as expiry dates, before use.

STDs/STIs not only affect you physically, but mentally and socially as well. “Our society judges and rejects people with STDs[/STIs],” said Gagné. “They are often seen as prostitutes or floozies. People are afraid to touch them, they act as if they have the plague.”

Kelyane Dizazzo, a student at Collège Ahuntsic, has contracted chlamydia in the past. “It felt like the end of the world,” said Dizazzo. “I know it could’ve been something much worse, but when I got the news, I couldn’t stop crying,” she said. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, the importance of getting regularly tested for STDs/STIs while sexually active is pertinent. Concordia Health Services recommends getting tested every two months, or between different sexual partners.

“I lost some friends,” added Dizazzo. “Their girlfriends didn’t want them near me, let alone talking to me.” Dizazzo went on to explain that if she had known how badly this disease would affect her, she would have been much more careful.

“Being informed is key,” said Gagné. “Knowing about the different types of STDs[/STIs] and how they can be transmitted not only helps you know how to protect yourself, but it lets you know what to expect if you are not careful.”
Being honest with yourself and your partner can help stop the spread of these sexually transmitted diseases. Having an STD/STI does not only affect you, it also affects your future sexual partners, and previous ones that could be carriers or infected as well.

“There a lot of resources available to help prevent STDs[/STIs], but you have to look for them,” said Gagné. “If you think you have an STD[/STI] or just want to make sure that everything is okay, go to an STD[/STI] testing clinic. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Valentine’s Day is about showing your loved ones how much you care. While Hallmark holidays will push us to buy material items as expressions of our love, what better gift is there than the gift of protection and peace of mind?

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda


Concordia’s plight against HIV

This past week, students and staff were able to get tested for HIV at the Concordia Student Union (CSU) office on the seventh floor of the Hall building. A rapid HIV testing clinic was set up with the help of the CSU, the Concordia University Psychology Association (CUPA), Queer Concordia and Concordia Health Services. This is the second testing session put together by these organizations.

For this test, a certified nurse takes a prick of blood from your finger and, using a special kit, can tell you whether or not you are HIV positive or negative. The whole process, which takes around 20 minutes, includes going over your risks and sexual history, and the nurses can give you advice on how to improve or continue your safe sex practices. If the result comes back positive, the nurses would be able to put you in contact with various HIV-related resources in the city of Montreal as well as provide psychological support.

While we understand that many students might have been wary about getting tested at school, we think this issue is critical, and we applaud all four organizations that facilitated this testing clinic.

Let’s face it, students are sexually active while they’re in university and many are not properly educated when it comes to having safe sex and HIV prevention. In Canada, one in five people with HIV are unaware they’re HIV positive, according to Community AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE). Over one-quarter of all new HIV diagnoses in 2015 were in youth, according to the same source.

The Globe and Mail reported in 2014 that a person is infected with HIV every three hours in this country. In Saskatchewan the rate is nearly three times higher the national average, with 71.4 per cent of cases happening because of intravenous drug use. These figures are absolutely startling to say the least, and reveal the challenges our society has in addressing the epidemic.

One key role these rapid testing sessions fulfill is to help fight against the taboo of HIV. HIV and those who are HIV-positive face a lot of stigma, even criminalization, for having this virus. According to Sarah Schulman’s book, Conflict is Not Abuse, Canada was the country in the world to charge someone with murder for transmitting the disease. This country’s harsh criminal pursuit of HIV-positive individuals actually creates a fear around being tested. By making the testing process public and providing students accurate information about HIV, this project at Concordia helps dispel misinformation and allows the community to better understand and face HIV head-on.

Although we’ve come a long way in terms of scientific research and awareness, we need to press further and forge a discussion. We applaud the CSU, CUPA, Queer Concordia and Concordia Health Services for being progressive and open-minded about this issue and we encourage the school to hold more rapid clinics. We also encourage the student body to get tested for HIV and to properly educate themselves on safer sex practices and harm-reduction strategies like needle exchanges, which help reduce new cases of HIV. If we’re to eliminate HIV/AIDS in the near future, it’s time we start tackling this issue head on and minimize the risk of this virus being transmitted.

Contact Concordia Health Services to get tested for HIV or to speak with a medical specialist.

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Student Life

HIV/AIDS activism is alive and well at ConU

Ian Bradley-Perrin discusses what still needs to be solved for a stigmatized community

The second lecture in this year’s Concordia University Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS will be taking place Nov. 27.

This year is the 22nd annual lecture series, which was “originally started by faculty and staff who were concerned with the HIV epidemic and who wanted to do an academic interdisciplinary response, and also engage with the community,” said Ian Bradley-Perrin, coordinator for the Concordia University Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS and a master’s student in history at Concordia.

The series is entirely independently funded by people in the community who want to ensure these discussions are ongoing.

“It provides a forum to use HIV as a prism on the rest of the world, and see how the world works as a microcosm dealing with health care and stigma-related issues, and I think this gives you a better view of how the world works in general,” said Bradley-Perrin.

Every year, four to five speakers are invited to Concordia to discuss HIV/AIDS-related issues across a series of academic disciplines. This year’s lineup included a science and medical perspective last month from virologist Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, who has been working to develop an HIV vaccine.

This month’s guest lecturer will be Sean Strub, a prolific figure in the HIV/AIDS activism community. He is a long-time activist and survivor of AIDS, and his credits include being the founder of Poz magazine and the first openly pos (HIV-positive) person in the United States House of Representatives. He is also the director of the Sero project, which is responsible for decriminalizing HIV/AIDS in Iowa, the first place where that was ever done.

“He’ll be speaking about his life’s work in general, but also I suspect [that he] will touch on the questions of what is the state of the pos experience of the world today,” said Bradley-Perrin.

In the coming months, two-time Academy Award winner Robert Epstein will come to talk about his filmography and documentaries which deal with the HIV epidemic, and activist Esther Boucicault Stanislas will be finishing up the year’s series with a perspective on community-based activism and the specific needs of the Haitian HIV/AIDS community.

Bradley-Perrin has embarked on quite the activist career-path as well, and has been involved with the Lecture Series and the HIV/AIDS community at large since 2011.

“When I was in my second year at Concordia I found out I was HIV-positive,” he said. “But even before that, as a gay person, HIV is a fundamental part of the way people think of themselves as part of a community. It’s a huge chunk of gay and lesbian history in the world.”

It was that year that Bradley-Perrin started organizing the lecture series.

“When I found out I was HIV-positive I started looking for that sort of community on campus where I could therapeutically, selfishly deal with what I was going through,” he said. “But also find an academic space where I could engage with HIV in some way outside of pure academia ideological terms or sort of the stereotypical ideas of AIDS in Africa, or as a disease of poverty.”

That same year, over the summer, Bradley-Perrin started organizing his own conference/workshop series with a few friends, which turned into a weekend event where they brought in people from all over the world in the HIV/AIDS community. They had panels to talk about issues that may not be important globally but were important to them.

“Even though the lecture series is amazing, it’s still within the context of an institution, you can’t have half-formed ideas,” he said. “People are presenting their life’s work, it’s very developed and they’re very mature in their career paths. But the workshop provides a context for people to sort of work through their own, less complete ideas.”

Amongst these ideas are “things like, what does it mean that if there was a cure, people who have made their living working in the HIV treatment community would lose their jobs,” said Bradley-Perrin.

These informal conversations have often sparked ideas which he would bring to the more formal lecture series the following school year. “Things that we’ve asked in the conference are often subjects that have fed my interest for the lectures, and we then bring forward to the lecture series,” he said.

“It’s amazing that Montreal has a community where there’s enough interest to have a lecture series in the academic year and also a conference in the summer that both draw such high numbers,” he said. The conference in the summer brings together around 200 people over the course of two days, while the lecture series boasts about a thousand people attending each year.

This is not surprising, considering that Montreal has second highest rate of HIV amongst gay men in Canada, and also (perhaps by consequence) has the greatest number of AIDS service organizations in the country.

Bradley-Perrin believes that the key to eventually curing HIV/AIDS lies as much in continuing discourse about the issue and finding reforms for the current limiting health care system, as it does in investing money for the development of vaccines and medications.

“Public education is such an important part of keeping the front-line work alive,” he said. “I think the search for a cure or a vaccine is always important, but it costs a lot less than people seem to think. Sometimes it’s not the money or the technology that’s needed, but the will to change the system. And that doesn’t cost anything.”

With his work, Bradley wants to emphasize that there is a gross misconception in the community. Over the last few years there has been a consistent theme in the narrative of HIV/AIDS work that attributes the development of highly effective retroactive antivirals in 1996 to the end of the HIV/AIDS problem.

“This could not be further from the truth,” he said. “There are 35 million people living with HIV in the world. Something like 1.6 million die each year from HIV. There are people in the US that don’t have access to treatment, there are people in Canada who don’t have access to treatment, and that’s even though we have a socialized healthcare system.”

Clearly, the fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over.

“We’ve solved some very serious, pressing questions, but all the pre-existing issues of social inequality haven’t been solved,” he said. “There are people who need these life-saving technologies, which for all intents and purposes should be freely available to them because it exists and it’s just sitting there, but who can’t access it. The system is inhospitable to the people that need it the most.”

Above and beyond that is the still-existing stigma around HIV and AIDS and society’s tendency to vilify those affected by the virus.

“I think that one thing the world needs to understand is first, the concept of decriminalizing HIV, and not only that but making people understand that people living with HIV are just like everyone else,” he said. “They’re not criminals, they’re not in the place that they’re in because of some delinquency, or some inability to differentiate right from wrong. It’s just a virus. And everybody is affected by it in some way.” Even if that way is just as one example of a health system that is deeply flawed.

For more information on the Lecture Series visit


Ask yourself, would you risk it?

Graphic by Phil Waheed.

In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that those infected with Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) won’t always have to inform their sexual partners of their diagnosis.

Back in 1998, people were obliged to be upfront to their partners regarding whether or not they had HIV. if you didn’t, you could be charged with aggravated sexual assault.

Now, more than a decade later, the Supreme Court stated that as long as you are wearing a condom and taking medication that is treating your disease, you no longer have to tell your partner if you have HIV because “there is no reasonable risk of transmission.”

For those not familiar with HIV, it is a virus that “targets certain immune cell types and destroys them thereby crippling the immune system,” said Sophia Ushinsky, a professor of biology at Concordia University.

Ushinsky said that in most cases, taking treatments can cause complications and doesn’t always guarantee the person to be risk free of transmitting the disease.

“HIV is a retrovirus. This class of viruses has a high level of mutation,” she said. “This can result in the virus acquiring a change that makes it insensitive to antiviral therapies.”

HIV has been intensively researched over the last 30 years and there is still no cure or vaccine. Ushinsky continued to say that “each cell the virus infects, the viral genome becomes integrated in the DNA of the person it infects and remains there until that particular cell is dead and destroyed by the body. The virus itself can replicate very rapidly.”

A main concern is that by requiring people infected with the virus to disclose their condition only “if there is a ‘realistic possibility’ a sex partner might become infected,” it infringes on the rights of those who are not infected.

I’m pretty sure any individual would like to know whether or not their partner has HIV, even if they’re being treated and wearing a condom. The problem here is that the Supreme Court is completely taking away the right of the uninfected individual to make an informed decision on whether or not to have sexual relations with an infected partner.

In an article published in the Chronicle Herald, it was stated that the evidence showed that when the “‘viral load’ — which measures HIV in the blood — of the infected person was low, due to proper treatment, risk of transmission dropped by more than 85 per cent.” The court also reported that data retrieved showed that by wearing a condom, the risk is reduced by 80 per cent. This, to the court, means that by wearing a condom and taking proper medication, the risk of transmission becomes “speculative, not realistic.”

I do not understand this decision at all. Everyone has a right to information that will essentially help them make a choice in their life. By taking away this information, people do not have the ability to make the best choice.

Ushinsky went on to say that she worries about “the compliance of the patient in taking their medications.”

“Some of these drugs have serious side effects and a person’s immune status may have an effect on the disease course. Not knowing how often patients are monitored for changes in viral load makes me uneasy as a change reflects a change in infection status which may be asymptomatic.”

The Supreme Court seems to have a lack of sympathy and judgement when it comes to sex. In many cases, a condom can break and can be up to zero per cent effective if not used properly.

So brace yourselves boys and girls, HIV isn’t something you want to live with for the rest of your life, and once that condom breaks, there’s no going back.

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