The announcement came as no surprise to anyone following recent developments in the HIV movement in Canada. “Unfortunately, with the significantly changing landscape of the HIV movement (including massive cuts to government funding for HIV/AIDS community-based organizations), we will not be holding a 2018 forum due to financial constraints” said the email from CAS ED Gary Lacasse. “We have worked tirelessly in order to secure funding but as of yet have not been successful because no funders are willing to finance face to face meetings anymore.”
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) announced a massive redistribution of their AIDS budget in October 2016. Some agencies, including CAS, lost their PHAC funding completely, effective March 31 the following year, but were granted a one year extension. That extension expires at the end of this month.
Lacasse said that PHAC is no longer interested in funding community gatherings like the CAS Forum, which last year drew 70 community members to Regina, Saskatchewan. Other PHAC funded agencies are also feeling the crunch. CATIE, for example, which has long hosted a well-attended biennial national forum bringing those who work in HIV and the community together, no longer has confirmed funding for a Forum in 2019,
“There is no money for bringing people in anymore”
I asked Lacasse what it felt like to have to advise the community that the Forum will not take place this year. “It took me a couple of days to press enter and transmit” he said “because the Forum was something I held dear to my heart. I find these spaces are shrinking, that there are no longer spaces available for community organizations to engage with people living with HIV. The loss of this space – and we worked for three years to bring it to what happened last year – is going to take years to recover. The issue is, first of all, that the Federal Initiative doesn’t want us to meet, that’s clear. We are talking to officials every week to try and have them comprehend the extreme trauma they have created within the HIV network in Canada. We are holding them accountable. And while this would have been a really good fit for private financing with clear objectives in place, that’s not available either.”
“What about the future of CAS itself, when the PHAC funding commitment is due to expire March 31?’ I asked. It sounds like some specific programming funding is available but not much else to support core operations. Some staff will need to be let go. Said Lacasse “There will need to be restructuring. There is going to be a CAS after April 1. We are working to create guidelines for practitioners on how to prescribe marihuana; that’s about $100,000 a year so that will help. We also have about $800,000 in new funding requests in to the federal government to continue some really strategic work moving forward, including launching a national HIV Testing Day this year. It will be the first national offensive in HIV testing in Canada.”
“Office overhead we will be reducing because we are down to minimal staff. Some staff are leaving effective April 1. We will have to become more grass roots and more nimble in delivering what we have to do. Our advocacy work will be centred around lobbying the federal government to help them understand what specific gaps they have created with the new funding model.”
Lacasse told me about moving forward with work anchored on three pillars – advocacy and lobbying to ensure that there is an adequate federal response to the HIV sector, secondly working on awareness through the national HIV Testing campaign, rebranding the national AIDS Walk, etc. and thirdly addressing gaps in services through specific programs like the medical marihuana guidelines and our GIPA roadmap.
The CAS AGM will again be conducted through a webinar format. “There is no money for bringing people in anymore” said Lacasse.