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Kenney apologizes after comparing those who don’t have COVID-19 vaccine to AIDS victims

Click to play video: 'Kenney compares attitudes towards unvaccinated Albertans to AIDS stigma in the 1980s' Kenney compares attitudes towards unvaccinated Albertans to AIDS stigma in the 1980s
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney compared some of the attitudes towards people who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine to the stigma of AIDS/HIV patients in the mid 1980s. The premier has since apologized for the comparison – Feb 9, 2022

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has apologized for comparing the stigma of being unvaccinated for COVID-19 to the plight of HIV-AIDS patients in the 1980s.

In a post on Twitter Wednesday morning, Kenney calls it an inappropriate analogy.

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Kenney told a news conference on Tuesday evening it’s wrong to judge and stigmatize people who have decided not to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

He compared it to attitudes decades ago when some people wanted HIV-AIDS patients isolated for the health protection of others.

LISTEN: Jason Kenney apologizes for HIV comments

Kenney has a personal tie to the issue, fighting in San Francisco in the 1980s to overturn a law extending hospital visitation rights to gay couples — a move aimed at preventing people from visiting their dying partners.

The Opposition NDP calls Kenney’s comparison despicable and says Kenney has no credibility passing himself off as a human rights defender.

Click to play video: 'Alberta ending vaccine passport program and other COVID-19 public health restrictions' Alberta ending vaccine passport program and other COVID-19 public health restrictions
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Dr. Kristopher Wells, associate professor and Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University, called the comments “irresponsible and reprehensible.”

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“Particularly coming from premier Kenney, who is noted to have actively worked against LGBTQ people throughout his career and in particular as a young activist in San Francisco who fought vigorously to prevent people from being able to be in the hospital alongside their loved ones who were dying from HIV,” Wells said.

Wells also said the comparison between the lack of attention paid by governments to the HIV/AIDS pandemic made the premier’s initial comments “not a good comparison to make – it’s inappropriate.”

Wells said without actions to back up the premier’s apology, “the apology just simply rings hollow and is not sincere.”

Click to play video: 'Kenney compares attitudes towards unvaccinated Albertans to AIDS stigma in the 1980s' Kenney compares attitudes towards unvaccinated Albertans to AIDS stigma in the 1980s
Kenney compares attitudes towards unvaccinated Albertans to AIDS stigma in the 1980s – Feb 9, 2022

He suggested the repeal of Bill 8, the Education Amendment Act which removed supports and protections for LGBTQ youth and gay-straight alliances, and ensuring the perspectives of the LGBTQ community be included in school curriculum around the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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“This should be mandatory so that these kinds of comparisons are not made because people are actually educated about the LGBTQ community, about HIV and AIDS. And that’s an important part of our history.”

HIV organization say more education needed

The executive director of HIV Community Link wouldn’t comment on the premier’s comparison, but rather pointed out that the stigma around HIV/AIDS is still quite present.

“I spoke to someone earlier that thought that we were kind of over stigma related to HIV, and we certainly are not,” said Katie Ayers.

She added it’s often the people they work with who tell them that the stigma surrounding the virus is something they have to manage every day.

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“HIV stigma really affects their emotional well-being, as well as their mental health of people living with HIV, and they often will internalize the stigma that they may experience. That can create a lot of fear around being discriminated against or being judged negatively, even when it comes to something like seeking treatment for someone who’s newly diagnosed.”

Ayers said the most recent data from 2019 showed there are roughly 7,700 people in Alberta that have a known HIV diagnosis.

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Click to play video: 'Calgary woman with HIV walking to end AIDS stigma' Calgary woman with HIV walking to end AIDS stigma
Calgary woman with HIV walking to end AIDS stigma – Sep 10, 2020

“However, the stats are also telling us… about one in eight people are living with HIV and don’t know their status,” she explained.

Ayer’s encourages people to talk about HIV with their family and friends to help combat the misinformation that spreads in an effort to help end the stigma for good.

–with files from The Canadian Press

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