After 35 years of fierce activism, AIDS ACTION NOW!, the HIV treatment activist group, is shutting down.

AIDS ACTION NOW! was formed in Toronto in 1988 as a community-based response to the lack of institutional leadership regarding treatment and healthcare for people living with HIV/AIDS. Its strategy was to combine confrontational public demonstrations with strategic documents and “behind the scenes” meetings with government and institutional leaders. These meetings pushed decision-makers to respond more forcefully to HIV health care at a time when it was highly stigmatized and few treatment options were available.

Guided by a steering committee composed of a majority of people living with HIV, AIDS ACTION NOW! refused government and pharmaceutical funding in order to retain its critical independence. Nonetheless, the unpaid work of its volunteer members transformed the Canadian HIV landscape. Brightly coloured stickers, pamphlets, banners and posters ridiculing governmental silence and ineptitude, and “die-ins” organized in major Toronto intersections created widespread awareness of the catastrophe that was unfolding among gay men and other marginalized communities such as injection drug users, racialized communities, sex workers and hemophiliacs.

Among its significant victories were the activation of the federal government’s Emergency Drug Release Program and the creation of the Ontario government’s Trillium Drug Program, which made costly HIV drugs accessible to people with low incomes. AIDS ACTION NOW! conceived of the idea of a comprehensive information system for HIV treatments. Its Treatment Information Exchange culminated in the creation of CATIE, Canada’s HIV and hepatitis C information source. Its prison subcommittee became PASAN, and its legal committee established HALCO, the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario. In more recent years, AIDS ACTION NOW! coordinated poster/Virus, a provocative partnership with local artists aimed at fighting ongoing HIV discrimination. This collection was acquired recently by the National Institutes of Health. But perhaps most importantly, AIDS ACTION NOW! provided a voice for people with HIV and championed the idea that HIV could become the chronic, manageable illness that it is today for most people in Canada.

AIDS ACTION NOW! had been largely inactive over the past years and the decision to disband was made by the current steering committee. The remaining funds in the AIDS ACTION NOW! account have been donated to food programming at the Toronto PWA Foundation.