Forum for hope

Published 01, Jun, 2017
Author // Bob Leahy - Publisher

The CAS (Canadian AIDS Society) Forum for People living with HIV is In Regina, Saskatchewan next week. Bob Leahy says it's a meeting to watch for those following the course of HIV advocacy in Canada.

Forum for hope

Opportunity knocks

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. 

About the Author

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on LiveJournal.com where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s HIVStigma.com campaign, along with PositiveLite.com founder Brian Finch. He joined PositiveLite.com at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.

Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year.  He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).  He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005.  Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for TheBody.com.

In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest  in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.