Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

What Happened

In April 2012, the Public Health Agency of Canada severely cut funding from the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS, turning down 16 out of 20 activities proposed by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network on the basis that it might produce resources that could be used for human rights or advocacy. 

Funding cuts

In April 2012, following detailed review by the office of the Minister of Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) turned down 16 out of 20 activities proposed by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in its application for renewed funding under the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada. For 15 of 16 of the rejected activities, the sole stated reason for the denial of funding was that “it was unclear from the details provided in the proposal whether the resource would be used for advocacy purposes, which is ineligible for funding.”                 

Over the 20 years of its existence, a significant portion of the Legal Network’s funding has come from the Federal Initiative, through competitive, reviewed granting processes. The Legal Network had been recognized as a “National Partner” with the federal government in responding to the HIV epidemic in Canada, with specialized expertise on legal and human rights issues.

In December 2011, as part of the new funding cycle, the Legal Network had submitted its proposal seeking renewal of funding under the Federal Initiative at the same level as in recent years. In April 2012, the Legal Network was notified formally that funding would be cut by two-thirds from the previous level.   

Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said: “We don’t believe it’s appropriate to fund groups to go out and lobby both the federal or other levels of government. We feel it’s a better use of taxpayer dollars to fund programs that are carrying out the stated policy objectives of government. And we work with those groups that want to do that.”

Government fears human rights

PHAC also stated that a “weakness” of the application was its “focus on human rights activities.” Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Network, said that “even those activities which have been approved are subject to restrictions on which human rights issues may be addressed.”

The Federal Initiative explicitly refers to human rights as part of an effective response to HIV.

In producing “know your rights” educational materials intended to help people living with HIV or communities particularly affected by HIV, the Legal Network is prohibited from using PHAC funding to address human rights. For example, the materials to be produced by PHAC funding cannot be used for the rights of people in prison (e.g., to privacy or to adequate health services) or for the rights of people with addictions (e.g., in facing discrimination in services or in their interactions with police). These communities are recognized in the government’s own AIDS strategy as communities particularly affected by HIV.

The Legal Network asserts that the proposed activities were all tied to the stated objectives of the Federal Initiative, as required for such applications, and were previously funded by PHAC as a result.

Government fears advocacy… and even the potential for advocacy

According to the Legal Network, advocacy was not the objective of the funding, nor was the funding refused on the basis that the activities actually were advocacy. Rather, the stated reason given in every instance (except for one) was that the proposed activity might produce something that could amount to, or be used for, advocacy. In a Voices-Voix interview, Mr. Elliott said that he has publicly sought support and help in a letter in July in Positive Lite, saying that “virtually all of the activities—including activities previously supported by government funding—were deemed ineligible for funding because the educational resources to be produced might be used for advocacy”.

Mr. Elliott said that that the potential for advocacy used to justify the refusal to fund a wide range of activities. These include a project exploring the links between HIV risk and housing insecurity for women, info sheets on HIV and hepatitis C in prisons, a workshop on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and screenings of a documentary (produced with earlier PHAC funding) exploring the impact on women of the ongoing criminalization of HIV in Canada.

Part of a pattern of attacks on charities

The Network is a charitable organization under Canadian law.

In a short section of the 2012 federal budget entitled “Enhancing Transparency and Accountability for Charities” tabled in Parliament, the government had announced its intention to restrict “political” activities of charities and devoted $8 million to the mission of ensuring compliance.

Mr. Elliott said he worries that such a government policy will discourage organizations from proposing any program that they fear might be considered politically unpalatable to the government of the day in order to save their funding. 

Relevant dates:

  • 1992: The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is founded.
  • April 2012: Health Canada rejects 16 out of 20 activities proposed for funding by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
  • 21 July 2012: The Legal Network’s Executive Director circulates a letter (reposted on with news of the funding cuts and asking for support from the community. 

Role or Position

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network promotes the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, through research and analysis, advocacy and litigation, public education and community mobilization both in Canada and internationally. The Legal Network is a leading advocacy organization on legal and human rights issues raised by HIV/AIDS.

Implications and Consequences

  • Democracy: Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) refused applications from the Legal Network for the reason that they could potentially lead to advocacy. The move is a disincentive for other civil society organizations seeking to advocate for better conditions and for the human rights of vulnerable communities. It creates a chilling effect on projects and programs that might be considered as “political.”
  • Equality: Refusing to fund projects because they promote the human rights of people in prison or people with addictions, even though these communities are among those most likely to be affected by HIV, denotes disrespect for equality rights.  


Date published: 12 November 2012

Photo from Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.