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Canadian Prime Minister Declines to Attend AIDS 2006

In August, the world’s largest AIDS conference will be held in Toronto, Canada. Some 20 thousand people are expected to attend, but Canada’s prime minister will not be one of them. Media reports say Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office has notified the 16th International AIDS Conference he will not attend.

This is the second time a Canadian prime minister has refused to attend the conference when Canada was the host.

Richard Burzynski is the head of ICASO, the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations, which represents NGOs around the world. From Toronto, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about Prime Minister Harper’s decision. “First of all we have to say how disappointed we are…. This prime minister has tried to differentiate himself from the former prime minister, who did not attend (Jean Chretien in 1996), and in fact they’re so much alike. When it comes to the issue of HIV there’s a misunderstanding. There’s a lack of comprehension about what global solidarity is all about. And when world leaders from developing countries are coming to this country to talk about the challenges they face, the kinds of successes they’ve had, but clearly the barriers they still have in front of them…and our prime minister from a G8 country is not here to talk about it and listen and even greet them here in Toronto, I really think it’s deplorable. ”

After Chretien declined to attend in ‘96, then South African president Nelson Mandela refused to take part in the AIDS conference. Burzynski says, “I can understand that and hopefully the other leaders who are attending will not see this as that kind of a event. I think what we really have to remember is there will be over 20,000 people from around the world gathering in Toronto to really grapple with some hard issues. And those who will be here are committed, are going to work despite the obstacles. And if our own prime minister here in Canada is an obstacle to trying to garner that kind of support that’s required to really have the resolve of political leadership, you know, we will work with other political leaders who are resolved.”