December 1 was World AIDS Day, a time to fight HIV stereotyping and stigmatization together with helping to stop the spread of the disease. It was also Rob Ford’s first full day in office as the newly elected mayor of Toronto.

“It’s a sad day to welcome a mayor who hates people living with HIV,” said Alex McClelland of AIDS Action Now. “I’m one of those people Rob Ford doesn’t give a shit about.”

In 2006, Ford argued against funding a $1.5 million AIDS strategy. “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably,” said Ford.

Although McClelland admitted that Ford is “probably technically correct on some of his info”, he feels that Ford’s statement (for which he has since apologized) indicates that the new mayor doesn’t believe the city should fund programs to prevent new HIV infections. (The Toronto Star reported in May that Ford said he thought health initiatives were a provincial responsibility.)

“We’re citizens of Toronto and assured our rights, including our right to health,” said McClelland during an anti-Ford rally organized by OCAP and No One is Illegal – Toronto last Wednesday. “And what Rob Ford doesn’t seem to know is that HIV is on the rise among women living in Toronto.”

Especially among non-status immigrant and refugee women from countries where the virus is endemic who become isolated because they are prevented from accessing Canadian health services.  

McClelland also accused Ford of not caring about drug users. In August, when Toronto became the first city in the world to support the Vienna Declaration that advocates harm reduction over the criminalizing illicit drug users, Ford was one of seven councillors to vote against a motion to endorse the declaration.

“More proof that Ford favours an ignorant, moral ideology when making policy decisions,” he said. “The war on drugs is a war on people that is known to create more violent communities or promote the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.”

But none of the other leading Toronto mayoral candidates were prepared to support a supervised injection site, a concrete approach to harm reduction in which people can go to a safe place to inject drugs and connect with a variety of services.

So McClelland promised that AIDS activists will continue to battle Rob Ford and the right wing power base at City Hall.

“People living with HIV are fierce opposition and will fight and will resist his ignorance and stupidity every step of the way and will not allow the neo-liberalization of our lives,” said McClelland.

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.