Four decades since the start of the HIV pandemic: Then versus now

now over four decades since the start of the HIV health crisis, how is it being handled in Canada today?

During the summer of 1981, a headline from The New York Times warned people about a “rare cancer” found in young, healthy gay men. Nine months later, the first case of this mysterious illness was reported in Canada. This turned out not to be cancer at all but human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and could infect people of any age, race, and sexual orientation.

In 1983 alone, there were an estimated 3,000 to 7,000 new cases of HIV in Canada. Nearly 40 years later, there were approximately 1,520 new cases of HIV in 2020, and 1,722 new cases in 2021, according to reports by the Government of Canada.

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) established the 90-90-90 targets to tackle this pandemic. Their aim is to ensure that 90 per cent of people with HIV know their status, 90 per cent of those who know their status are receiving treatment, and 90 per cent  of those who are on treatment have an undetectable viral load. 

Recent research published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has found that people with undetectable levels of HIV cannot transmit the virus through sex.

Canada has made significant progress since the beginning of the HIV pandemic. In 2018, 87 per cent of people with HIV knew their infection status, 85 per cent of those who knew their status were taking treatment, and 94 per cent of those taking treatment for HIV achieved viral suppression. 

Despite this progress, Canada still has much to improve on. Montreal did not sign on to the Paris Declaration on Fast-Track Cities Ending the AIDS Epidemic, which put forth a new 95-95-95 target. As a result, HIV/AIDS organizations within the city feel as though Montreal is not doing enough to combat the pandemic. 

Another highly contested issue is Canada’s laws on HIV non-disclosure, which state that an individual’s HIV-positive status must be disclosed to their partner prior to any sexual activity that poses a “realistic possibility of transmission,” or risk being charged with sexual assault. This law has faced significant backlash due to overcriminalization, particularly among marginalized communities. 

Furthermore, many marginalized groups continue to struggle disproportionately compared to the rest of Canada. According to the Ontario HIV Epidemiology and Surveillance Initiative, in 2019, African, Caribbean and Black women represented 61 per cent of new diagnoses among women in Ontario. Out of 169 women, 21 per cent were reported to use injection drugs. 

A cohort study published by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network highlighted that individuals who experienced intimate violence from a partner were up to 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV. 

In 2018, the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange reported that only 78 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada who inject drugs were aware of their HIV status, with 83 per cent of those who knew their status receiving treatment, while only 64 per cent of those on treatment had an undetectable viral load.

Marginalized groups encounter barriers to access to treatment care for multiple reasons: the costs, the types of clinics and services available and the stigmas related to alcohol and drug use, to name a few. 

HIV organizations that provide support services witness this disparity first-hand. Kimberly Wong, the programs development manager at AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM), believes community organizations need more funding to help marginalized people living with HIV. 

“There are major shortages of resources and many post-lockdown crises that our sector has to deal with, so having more money to hire skilled workers would help a lot,” she said. 

ACCM provides a wide array of other services to the community. “Currently, we offer rapid HIV testing by appointment,” said Wong. They also offer one-on-one support for those living with HIV or hepatitis C, including referrals to other resources and individual counseling. 

For those interested in volunteering at ACCM, you can see their list of volunteer opportunities here

For more information regarding other support services, such as STI testing available in the Montreal area, including Concordia University, please refer to the list below.

Concordia University 

514-828-2424 ext. 3565

CLSC Metro (next to Sir George Williams campus)

1801 de Maisonneuve West

AIDS Community Care Montreal

2075 Rue Plessis



2055 Mansfield 




Montreal – Berri-UQAM 1485 Saint-Hubert Street 

Montreal – Crescent 2121 rue Crescent, Suite 2117

Quebec – 2360 Ch Ste-Foy, Suite G031

Sherbrooke – 30 Rue Marchant 

L’Actuel Medical Clinic 

1001 de Maisonneuve Est 



Are we doing Pride wrong?

Pride comes around each year as a way to recognize the LGBTQI+ community. It is celebrated in the month of June as a way to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising that took place in Manhattan, New York.

However, 2019 marks 50 years since members of the LGBTQI+ community fought back against police at the Stonewall Inn; and as a result, launching what is today known as the LGBTQ rights movement. Over the years, there has been a significant improvement in the legal and social protections that LGBTQ people have access to. This includes rights to same-sex marriage, employment security and the right to hold universal celebrations like Pride.

It’s important to note that Pride still remains pertinent well into the 21st century because there is still a lot of discrimination and injustice directed at LGBTQI+ people worldwide. On May 30, two women were the subject of a homophobic attack on a night bus in London. The pair was violently beaten by a group of teenagers, which goes to show that hate crimes still exist.

According to the BBC, attacks on the LGBTQ community have almost doubled since 2014 which means there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done regarding the safety of LGBTQI+ people.

As for the history of the LGBTQI+ rights movement, the Stonewall Uprising became a pivotal turning point for the Gay Liberation Movement that took place in the United States in ‘69. What initially started as a one-day celebration known as “Gay Pride Day,” which took place on the last Sunday in June, quickly developed into a month-long series of festivities.

Nowadays, Pride Month consists of parades, parties, concerts, you name it. Nevertheless, it is also a time to remember those who lost their lives to hate crimes or to HIV/AIDS. Overall, Pride Month leaves an impact on everyone, shining light on those who belong to the LGBTQI+ community and how they’ve influenced individuals on a historical, national, and international scale.

Despite the fact that Pride appeals to all audiences, it is important to remember that it was not born out of the desire to celebrate, but rather to demonstrate for the equality and inclusion of LGBTQI+ people. The movement stemmed from a demand for equal rights, which has evolved into a festival celebrated globally in the past 50 years.

People mustn’t forget that this battle for acceptance isn’t over. Individuals from the LGBTQI+ community face challenges when it comes to living openly in society – especially Transgender people. Their emotional, physical, and professional well-being is in a constant state of jeopardy. But with more and more LGBTQI+ people showing the courage to live as openly as they wish, we will soon see a true step forward in accepting who others are. Their bravery sets an example to all.

Not too long ago, there was controversy surrounding the fact that certain straight people questioned the need for Pride even wondering why there aren’t any “Straight Pride” parades/celebrations. This goes to demonstrate that some people may not fully comprehend the history surrounding Pride and that it didn’t start out as sunshine and rainbows.

Furthermore, when straight people question the need for Pride, it indicates a lack of recognition towards a minority group that continues to face a multitude of challenges. This was seen in the violent murders of transgender women, among other examples.

The bottom line is that the LGBTQI+ community has shown so much resilience and progress in spite of these hardships – which is something that needs to be celebrated. Pride is an incredible opportunity for everyone to come together in solidarity, and reflect on the history of the LGBTQI+ movement.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


Montreal hosts Canada’s annual HIV/AIDS conference

Canada’s leading scientists discuss issues and future progress surrounding HIV/AIDS

More than 900 of Canada’s top scientists, physicians and community leaders joined Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS conference in Montreal from April 6 to 9.

According to the Canadian Association for HIV Research, in 2017, more than 70,000 Canadians live with HIV, and every year an estimated 2,300 to 43,000 new infections are reported.

Canada’s annual HIV/AIDS conference was held at the Hotel Bonaventure in Montreal. The Canadian Association for HIV Research is Canada’s leading organization for research on the disease. The organization includes more than 1,000 researchers, scientists and physicians committed to finding ways to prevent and cure HIV.

The 26th edition of the conference addressed how HIV remains a pressing issue that still requires more resources and research to prevent its spread and find a cure. This year’s theme was “We’re Not Done Yet,” in reference to the need for more research and resources to help eradicate HIV/AIDS.

Five presentations were given, focusing on issues related to HIV/AIDS, protection and preventative measures.

“Tremendous successes have been achieved in the fight against HIV-AIDS,” said Dr. Alexandra de Pokomandy, a faculty member at McGill University and a renowned HIV researcher, during her presentation. “However, people living with HIV, health care workers, community members and researchers in Canada and elsewhere around the world also agree that many challenges remain, and HIV continues to kill.”

More than 800 people attended the event and stopped by specialized kiosks to learn about HIV research and resources.

Realize Canada, one of the organizations with a kiosk, is a national charitable organization that works with schools, employers, insurance companies and other associations to help improve the daily lives of people living with HIV and other episodic disabilities, such as depression, Hepatitis C and chronic fatigue syndrome. “Realize is geared towards postsecondary students,” said Puju Ahluwalia, Realize Canada’s project coordinator.

“When someone has an episodic disability like HIV, there is little predictability as to when these episodes will occur or for how long,” Ahluwalia said. “Realize Canada works with schools and student disability offices to help raise awareness and offer assistance for students living with an episodic disability.”

Students who have a test or an assignment due on a specific date might not be able to meet the deadline if they are affected by an episodic disability like HIV. Realize Canada will guide these students to different resources on their campuses and help work with their schools. Realize Canada works as a rehabilitation resource to help provide students with the health care and psychological support they need, Ahluwalia said in an interview with The Concordian.

During the conference, the PrEP pill was a point of discussion during a presentation by Dr. Peter A. Newman, a researcher at University of Toronto. The PrEP pill was legalized in Canada in February 2016. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Canada, PrEP-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a pill that reduces the risks of contracting HIV from sex by more than 90 per cent. Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70 per cent. The risk of contracting HIV from sex can be lowered further if you combine PrEP with condoms and other safe-sex methods.

Photo by Ana Hernandez.

PrEP can stop HIV from spreading throughout your body and is most effective in preventing HIV when taken daily, states Canada’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. PrEP should only be used by people who are HIV negative and who are at high risk for HIV infection. People interested in using PrEP should talk to their health care provider and meet with a doctor to receive a prescription. Depending on one’s insurance policy, or work insurance the price for PrEP can be covered in full.

However, Newman addressed how stigmas have begun to emerge within the LGBTQ+  communities on whether or not someone is on the PrEP pill, and whether or not they could have sex without a condom. “When dating, some men who are on the PrEP pill might receive pressure to not use a condom when having sex, or might be judged for using a condom,” Newman said during his presentation.

Another presenter, Allison Carter, who is a PhD student at Simon Fraser University, focused on the feminist approach to women living with HIV.  Carter’s study revealed that “women who are HIV positive can be happy and enjoy emotional and intimate relationships,” she said.

Among the 1,300 HIV-positive women involved in the study, those who claimed they were happy were involved in long-term sexual relationships. “We want women to know that they can have sex and have pleasure,” Carter said.


The disease that demolishes porn stars

Press photo for Inside Lara Roxx

Porn undeniably holds a sense of fantasy. For many, it’s an escape and a welcomed distraction. Yet, like most industries, there’s also a destructive side to it.

Produced and directed by Mia Donovan, Inside Lara Roxx recounts the story of a young woman from Quebec who sought money, sex, and fame in L.A., only to be left with infamy and an incurable, deadly disease.

In April 2004, a male porn star by the name of Darren James tested positive for HIV. Production in L.A. was temporarily shut down. Three women who had performed scenes with him also tested positive for HIV. Lara Roxx was one of them. She was 21-years-old.

Donovan follows Lara during a five year span, 2005-10, recording her various highs and lows as she deals with her disease. The film begins in a psychological ward where Lara is being treated and follows her back to L.A. where she recounts the details of her foray into porn and ultimately into contracting HIV. Lara alternates between stints in the hospital and living in squalor in a run-down Montreal crack house. Early on in the film, her mother shows the viewer childhood photos and old home videos, contrasting sharply with the stark reality Lara is currently living.

The director travels with Lara to various locations, such as a porn convention in Las Vegas, which she attends in order to raise awareness of the dangers of HIV within the adult entertainment industry. There, she’s joined by famous porn actor Ron Jeremy, who shares some insightful knowledge on sexual education. She also meets Rebekka Armstrong, a former Playmate and an HIV/AIDS advocate, who painfully admits that she was once “completely debilitated by the disease.”

Lara doesn’t initially trust the filmmaker, questioning her motives and friendship. In fact, it’s easy to see why she would be wary and skeptical towards new-found friends.

By capturing her story on camera, the director may be implicitly turning Lara into a poster child for adult entertainment industry-related HIV, a symbol of awareness for the deadly disease. However, the film takes an unexpected turn of events during the final two acts, when Lara is forced to confront her own personal demons.

At times, this film feels uneven. Months go by without a single word between the documentarian and her subject. Yet the filmmaker persists, becoming an active participant in her first feature-length documentary, urging Lara to seek medical help. Moreover, the film also illustrates Lara’s identity crisis, “I don’t know who I am,” she states midway through to the film.

Donovan has a sharp eye for creating wonderful shots, from the dim-lit, run-down streets of Montreal to a picturesque, sunlit beach in California. However, the scenes in L.A. in which Lara visits fellow female porn actresses seem slightly scripted and choreographed. It should also be noted that the film contains graphic nudity. Clips from Lara’s infamous porn film with Darren James are included, creating a highly unsettling effect. In one of the film’s more poignant scenes, Lara confesses, “I love life and it breaks my heart if I don’t respect it. It’s like an indirect suicide. But I never did respect myself.”

Inside Lara Roxx screens Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in Room H-110, 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Mia Donovan and Lara Roxx will be in attendance. This screening is co-presented with the HIV/AIDS Lecture Series. For more information, visit


Triage system can harm access to AIDS drugs: specialist

In 1982, an 18-year-old student attended a seminar about HIV/AIDS at Concordia, which inspired him to fight the once highly stigmatized disease.
Nearly 30 years later, this student, now an associate professor in the department of social and preventive medicine at Université de Montréal and a specialist in AIDS research, led a seminar of his own at Concordia on Nov. 10.
Dr. Vinh-Kim Nguyen spoke to students, professors, and AIDS activists from Montreal in French about his time researching the effects of AIDS in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
As part of Concordia’s ongoing HIV/AIDS community lecture series, the presentation drew awareness to the consequences of HIV treatments in Africa, which are largely unknown.
Nguyen focused on the period following the beginning of widespread use of antiretroviral drugs in the 1990s, which lead to a significant drop in HIV/AIDS-related deaths. For many African countries, these life-saving drugs were scarce and the virus was considered an “invisible disease because it was not seen as a problem,” according to Nguyen.
A native-born Ivorian who attended the seminar noted that when he was growing up, his father had told him that “HIV does not exist because gays do not exist.”
With this kind of mindset, the disease continued to spread, and it became increasingly important to get tested, and to talk about the disease. Awareness campaigns were introduced, using such messages such as, “I want to live happily for a long time, so I am adopting a responsible sex life.”
Because of the scarcity and price of drugs, health organizations relied on triage where only certain people would receive the lifesaving drugs, Nguyen said. People were selected based on their ability to communicate and be suitable AIDS activists.
Speaking from an anthropological perspective, Nguyen did not offer solutions. Instead, he criticized the triage system and noted that it was difficult for Africans to talk about themselves.  In North America, he explained how “we are swimming in a confessional culture.” For Africans, it is not as easy to confess, Nguyen explained.
A consequence of triage, Nguyen argued, was that it could lead to “therapeutic sovereignty,” or a fight over who should have access to treatment.
Nguyen has observed how communities are now forming with infected people who have access to drugs which have fragmented society, which he said has led to these people living longer and taxing the fragile health care system.
The associate professor wrote about the “therapeutic sovereignty” phenomenon in The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS, published in 2010.
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