New Digital Presence for Memorial Quilt Reflects Pain and Progress of AIDS Movement in Canada

Digital quilt launched as Canadian AIDS Society fights to stay open

OTTAWA, April 16, 2018 – Today, The Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) launched, a website reflecting our nation’s historical losses to HIV/AIDS and serving as a living memory of the almost 25,000 Canadians who have died of AIDS and related causes.

Showcasing the Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt, the site is a moving and powerful reminder of the significant progress made over the past 30 years, as well as the ongoing challenges to ultimately eradicating HIV, in Canada and worldwide.

Canadian AIDS Society Fighting to Stay Open

On April 1st 2018, federal funding cuts came into effect, threatening the existence of the Canadian AIDS Society.
“While funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) represents less than half of our annual budget, this support was essential to our viability,” said Gary Lacasse, Executive Director of the Canadian AIDS Society.

In addition to no longer funding CAS, 33 per cent of community-based HIV/AIDS organizations – more than 40 groups – have also had their federal funding cut to zero by the Public Health Agency, while many others have had it significantly reduced. The funding cuts mean many groups will be forced to drastically reduce the services they offer to clients while others, such as Vancouver’s Positive Women’s Network, have completely closed.

For almost 30 years, CAS played a critical leadership role in rallying governments, the health care system as well as research and development of new drug therapies to successfully fight the AIDS epidemic. Today, recognizing the strong parallels between the AIDS crisis in the 80’s and 90’s, and the current opioid crisis, CAS has been sharing its advocacy knowledge and expertise to help address this latest epidemic.

Among many negative impacts, the organization’s closure means the society will have difficulty leading the organization of a National HIV Testing Day planned for June 27. Also, it will no longer champion the annual AIDS Walk which raised $1.4 million in 2017 and $45 million over the last 30 years, to benefit local AIDS service organizations. A national public awareness campaign
to reduce growing rates of HIV infections – up 11 per cent in 2016 – will also be mothballed.

HIV in Canada in 2018

Today, some 75,000 Canadians are living with HIV/AIDS. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates seven new HIV infections occur every day, or approximately 2,500 a year. One in five people don’t know they have HIV and many are reluctant to get tested because they’re afraid of the outcome. “The stigma of being HIV positive is still alive and it’s a huge driver for new infections,” said Lacasse.

About the Quilt and Impetus for Its Creation

The Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt is made up of more than 600 different panels – measuring three feet by six feet to approximate the dimensions of a grave – each created in memory of someone who died of AIDS and related causes by their family members and friends.
Although difficult to believe today, in the beginning of the AIDS crisis, many people who died of AIDS and related causes did not receive funerals— due to both the social stigma of AIDS and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the remains of the deceased. Lacking a memorial service or grave site, the Memorial Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to honour, remember and celebrate the lives of their loved ones. In 2013, the collection of quilt panels was brought under the care of the Canadian AIDS Society.

Through this new digital initiative, CAS aims to ensure the Quilt remains an inspiration for generations to come.
The Canadian AIDS Society is currently seeking federal government and corporate support to ensure the long-time preservation of the Memorial Quilt which poignantly illustrates the human rights struggle gay men faced as their deaths and suffering from AIDS and related causes increased at a frightening rate in the 1980’s, only to see the public health crisis for them, as well as Indigenous people, women and children, ignored by their governments.

“The AIDS quilt documents the lives of people whose friends and family members’ feared history would forget. A memorial, a tool for education and work of art, the quilt is a unique creation, an uplifting response to the tragic loss of human life. The digitization of the images, now available on the new website, enhance both the quilt’s display activity and HIV prevention education programs,” said Lacasse.


For media enquiries:
Gary Lacasse, Executive Director
Canadian AIDS Society
613.230.3580, ext. 118 /
Soumaya El Kamel, Communications & National Programs Coordinator
Canadian AIDS Society
613. 230.3580, ext. 119 /