Next week sees sixty people living with HIV from across Canada gather in Regina, Saskatchewan. It’s an annual event, usually a precursor to the CAS Annual General Meeting held immediately following it. There will be no such double-barreled affair this year, Money is tight and PHAC is no longer funding AGMs so the AGM will be held in a different (online) format at a later date.
It’s unusual for financial considerations to intrude so glaringly, but as previously reported even the location of the Forum is a casualty of money - PHAC commitments were just not forthcoming in time. Plans to hold a Forum and AGM in Vancouver were therefore shelved in favour of a much less expensive Forum in Regina. It’s a fitting location though; the epidemic is raging in Saskatchewan in unprecedented fashion.
Meanwhile, CAS fights for its ongoing existence, on transitional funding intended by the government funder PHAC to be its last and with no guarantees past March 31, 20i8 that there will be money in the kitty for ongoing operations.
Against this uncertain backdrop, the sixty people living with HIV fortunate enough, like I am, to attend will be charged with envisioning the future. That gives this meeting an air of importance that previous Forums may not have had.
All this unfolds too as the Canadian Positive People Network tries to regroup after a rocky couple of years. Yet to establish itself as either a voice or a meeting place, its constituency - including the same people as who will be in Regina – wait to see it take flight. Will it also be placed, like CAS, to mount gathering places for people living with HIV, to solicit policy directions like CAS has traditionally done? That isn’t yet clear,
Not all in Regina will understand the history of both organizations and CAS in particular, how its meetings have been contentious and difficult and how some have left in frustration. And that’s good. Coming to Regina with a clean slate, with no pre-conceived notions, could serve the assembly well.
It’s helpful, though, to know what’s at stake here – the future of an organization which acts as the umbrella and national voice for most of the AIDS organizations in Canada, custodian of the AIDS quilt, central organizer of the AIDS Walk and host for the only annual gathering of people living with HIV from across Canada. It’s not a trivial thing to see all this wither on the vine because the government has determined that Canada has other priorities.
We must preserve our ability to meet, to communicate, to advocate.
So I’m hopeful. People living with HIV have increasingly shown they have heft – look at the Undetectable =Untransmitttable campaign as an example. There are leaders amongst us for sure.
Here is their chance – our chance – to show we are worth listening to, that our voice is important, that we can think big picture, that we are never part of the problem but always part of the solution.
The Regina CAS Forum of 2017 is a huge opportunity. I’m optimistic that it will be one for the history books.