MONTREAL, July 29 – Dozens of protesters took to the stage at the opening ceremony of the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal to condemn Canada’s refusal to issue visas to “a large number” of delegates from southern countries.
AIDS 2022 organizers allowed the protest to take center stage for about 10 minutes, as activists chanted “let’s take the stage” and voiced their disapproval of Canada’s allegedly hostile immigration policies and inequality in access to health care.
“Is the Government of Canada here in this opening to hear its racist effects? We ask them to be there to listen – no more lectures on AIDS in racist countries,” said South African HIV/AIDS activist Vuyiseka Dubula of the Fighting AIDS Coalition at the protest.
“The AIDS crisis is not over,” reads one sign. Another reads: “HIV movement, false allies?
Organizers expect some 11,000 delegates to attend the world’s largest meeting on HIV/AIDS, with around 9,000 delegates attending in person.
Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS) which is organizing the five-day conference, said her organization was “deeply upset” that many delegates, including IAS staff and leadership, were unable to obtain Canadian visas to attend the Montreal conference. .
“Ensuring broad participation in AIDS 2022 is vital for a simple reason; after four decades of the HIV response, we know that we will not achieve our goals without involving all stakeholders at all levels of the HIV response.
“And of course, we know that underlying the difficulty many AIDS 2022 participants face in entering Canada is a broader issue of global inequities and systemic racism that has a significant impact on global health.
“HIV, in particular, has always disproportionately affected the most marginalized,” Dr. Adeeba said at the opening of the Montreal conference.
Canadian International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was due to deliver a welcome speech at the conference, canceled his appearance.
Canadian actor and activist Omar Sharif Jr, who hosted the opening ceremony, in reference to the visa issues faced by conference delegates, said: Being here, on behalf of all Canadians, I apologize .
Sharif said he was “ashamed” of his government, adding: “Go Canada! We can do better than that, right?!”
Tim McCaskell, queer activist and author of the book,Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism”, which documents 50 years of queer history in Toronto, in his address said that conferences such as AIDS 2022 support a global conversation.
“Most of us in high-income countries hold passports that more or less guarantee us a smooth journey. But others face mountains of red tape and visa denials. All stakeholders should have a choice of where to sit at the table,” McCaskell said.
“Immigration reform is key, and if countries like Canada are falling short, then we need to hold these conferences where they are.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS Uganda tweeted tuesday that his documents were repeatedly reviewed and that he was “nearly denied boarding” the plane to the event.