Canada Rejecting Science-Based Research in the Fight Against the AIDS Epidemic

BASICS Issue #22 (Sep/Oct 2010)

by Mike B.

At the International AIDS conference in Vienna last month, a group of Canadians protested Canada’s lack of support for the Vienna Declaration. At least 50 activists closed down the Canadian government booth at the conference exhibition hall, wrapping it in tape and covering it with signs and copies of the Vienna Declaration, chanting “The war on drugs is a war on us” and “Shame on Canada.”

The Vienna Declaration is the official declaration of the 28th International AIDS conference. The statement is a call to improve community health and safety and to ensure illicit drug policies are based on scientific evidence. The declaration was drafted by a team of international experts, including some of the world’s leading scientific bodies dealing with HIV and drug policy. The declaration has received over 20,000 endorsements including AIDS activist Stephen Lewis, and the former president of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, as well as a range of experts in science, medicine and law.

The protest responded to Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s refusal to support both the Vienna Declaration and the adoption of evidence-based drug policies. Instead, the Federal Health Minister reiterated Stephen Harper’s policies of criminalizing drug users and his contempt for harm reduction, an internationally recognized strategy that includes provision of sterile needles and safe places to inject. While countries all over the world are moving to adopt harm reduction, the federal government continues to threaten Insite in Vancouver, Canada’s only safe injection site.

According to Zoe Dodd, a Canadian harm reduction activist, “There is overwhelming evidence that harm reduction strategies are effective in combating HIV transmission. Canadian criminalization of drug use is fanning the flames of the AIDS epidemic.” While other countries are evolving to regard drug use as a social and health issue, Canada is simply following in line behind the U.S. and their so-called “War on Drugs”. Dodd says, “Canada has missed an important opportunity to show leadership in the struggle against HIV and AIDS. People are dying because of it.”

Dr. Julio Montaner, president of the International Aids Society argues that, “these policies fuel the AIDS epidemic and result in violence, increased crime rates and destabilization of entire states – yet there is no evidence they have reduced rates of drug use or drug supply.”

He went on to promote evidence-based approaches to illicit drug policy that recognize addiction as a medical condition rather than a crime. “It’s time to accept the War on Drugs’ has failed to create drug policies that can meaningfully protect community health and safety using evidence, not ideology.”

In our communities we also understand that a “War on Drugs” approach will translate into a war on some of our most marginalized people. Drug policies based on law enforcement have only served to fill the prisons and swell police budgets, a trend that will continue until we take control of our communities and begin to adopt strategies to deal with drug use that are based on the best science and medicine that we have available.

To read the Vienna Declaration visit

For more background about harm reduction visit