Photo credit: Liam Maloney
You're co-chair of the leadership
program committee of the International AIDS Conference
next month. Any plans to try to coax Stephen Harper
to Mexico City? Oh, no. I'm not even sure he'd be
invited. Why would he? If he didn't have enough interest
to come in his own country, why would people invite
him to Mexico?
Have you heard anything from
him after some of the things you said publicly when
he failed to show at the Toronto conference in 2006?
I don't know whether I have ever spoken to Stephen Harper,
to tell you the truth. I don't know if he would ever
grant me the time of day.
Over the course of your time
as the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, from
2001 to 2006, several prime ministers came and went.
Chrétien, Martin, and, briefly, Harper. Who was
the best on African AIDS policy? Paul Martin, overwhelmingly.
Chrétien, I got the impression he felt for Africa
but I don't think it was around AIDS more than a pro
forma commitment, but Paul Martin had a very genuine
and intense commitment and, had he had more time, I
think that commitment would have continued to show itself.
I don't get any sense from Harper -- none whatsoever.
The prime minister who cared most about Africa and did
the most in development systems and foreign aid was
unquestionably Brian Mulroney and he gets insufficient
credit for his very real commitment to the continent.
I don't think it was mirrored by Turner, by Chrétien,
by Harper -- but I think Paul Martin was the most genuine.
Who would you rather have running
Ottawa, the Liberals or Conservatives? Well, I'm
a socialist. To me there's not a huge difference between
the Liberals and the Tories. But if I was forced to
the guillotine and the sword was held over my head,
I'd probably say the Liberals were preferable.
Luckily I think Ottawa got rid
of all its guillotines. It would have to be in that
situation to get it from me.
You've worked on health policy,
climate change, provincial politics, international relations
- but you seem to have settled on HIV/AIDS humanitarianism.
Is that where you really belong? Look, I'm a democratic
socialist. My ideology is my life. I don't do this because,
as some people ascribe to me I am filled with humanitarian
symptoms of compassion. I don't have any more compassion
than you do or the average Canadian does. I do this
because it's an extension of my ideology. I believe
we are put on this world to fight against injustice
and to fight for equality and that is what the struggle
against the pandemic means to me.
You don't think you have slightly
more compassion than the average Canadian? No. If
the average Canadian saw what I saw as I wander around
from country to country, frankly, they would feel exactly
the same way, there is no question in my mind.
I guess you could call it the
family business: your grandfather Moishe Lewis was a
labour leader in Montreal; your dad, David Lewis, was
the federal NDP leader, which he helped found; your
brother Michael and sister Janet are involved in the
Ontario NDP, of which you were leader. Yeah, I'm
not sure I had any alternative. My God, I was licking
envelopes in Ottawa when I was three years old for [NDP
pre-cursor] the CCF. For me, socialism was obligatory
or I would be disinherited.
How would you have felt if your
children hadn't followed suit? My wife used to wake
me up in the night while she was pregnant with our first
child and say to me, "What are we going to do if
this child turns out a Conservative?" I told her,
"Honey, don't worry, it won't happen." She
was worried far more about that than any illness or
disease or poverty or whatever.
As a die-hard NDP-er, how did
you feel when Bob Rae chose to join the Liberal Party?
Socialists who join capitalist governments are not my
cup of tea. I think Bob Rae is probably one of the most
talented politicians in the country but I am terribly
sorry he wants to prove his talent with the Liberals.
You don't think he can change
the system from within? I've never believed that.
I disagree with Bob entirely about the track he has
taken, but I am perfectly ready to concede he is immensely
talented. I think there is a very real possibility he
will be Prime Minister someday. I am not allowed to
use Bob's name in my home or I'll lose my wife and my
children, but talking to you, I can.
Is the current Conservative
government doing a good job on healthcare? Well,
let's put it this way: I don't get the sense they would
seriously protect medicare if it was under ferocious
assault, particularly if it was under assault from a
province like Alberta where so many of the Tory seats
come from and where there is such an ideological proclivity.
But this is an ideological thing. They are not terribly
interested in the intervention of government in the
private sector, thus around climate change they have
been unbelievably delinquent, in fact possibly the most
delinquent government in the world on climate change.
Your energy is mostly focused
on AIDS in Africa. What's your impression of the situation
in Canada? The huge problems in Canada are the aboriginal
populations where there seems to be no particular government
interest, and the harm reduction side of it. In Canada,
the transmission is injecting drug use, men having sex
with men, and heterosexual, and they all need to be
responded to. My impression from the AIDS activists
in Canada is that the Canadian government just doesn't
care very much, and the numbers are increasing. Indeed,
they are increasing in every Western country.
One of the most important aspects
of combatting AIDS is preventing infection from things
like shared needles. But the new federal anti-drug policy
focuses more on law enforcement than on harm reduction,
like safe-injection sites. To me, that means ultimate
political irresponsibility. It means a very casual view
of human life. There is, I think, a wanton negligence
on the part of the government around harm reduction
and a complete rejection of all the scientific evidence
we have accumulated around the world that shows harm
reduction works, that clean needles work, that safe-injection
sites work, that opiate substitution works, all these
things work. Once again the Harper government is determined
to be in synch with George Bush, is prepared to compromise
the health of the population to share that ideology.
Most Canadian physicians seem
to agree with you. Absolutely. Canadian physicians
do not believe in criminalization. Canadian physicians
believe in treatment, and that's what's required is
The International Narcotics
Control Board, the drug monitoring body affiliated with
the UN, says Canada's harm reduction projects are in
breach of the 1961 United Nations Single Convention
on Narcotic Drugs. Not a breach at all, no. Complete
It's been suggested by some
people-- Complete poppycock! They work and meet
in secret, they are simply unqualified to do the work
they do, their reports are nonsensical in the judgements
they make. They are completely of the mindset that drugs
are always criminal, that it is not a public health
or mental health problem, it's a criminal problem, so
they would throw everybody into jail they can lay their
hands on. They are not a trustworthy organization in
The Stephen Lewis Foundation
is very gynocentric. Why? Well, we're dealing with
Africa and, in Africa, of the 23 million living with
the virus, 61% are women. And in the critical age category
where 50% of the new infections occur -- between 15
and 24 years of age -- almost 80% are women and girls.
So it became pretty obvious that if we were going to
respond to the areas of greatest need, it would be women
and girls inevitably.
The Bangladeshi economist Muhammad
Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, has made
women his focus, too, in his microcredit initiatives.
He says women are more responsible. The thing is,
in Africa, women do all the work. I mean they do all
the work literally -- all the agriculture, everything.
But they also do all the caring, and all of their work
is largely unacknowledged and uncompensated.
The UN sent you to Rwanda to
investigate the 1994 genocide. After your report, world
leaders vowed to never let it happen again. In light
of that, has the lack of international response to what's
going on in Darfur surprised you? No. Not at all.
I mean, the world watched 800,000 people slaughtered
in the genocide and did nothing.
One would hope we'd learn from
that. Well, obviously we don't, do we? Everybody
said 'Never again' and along came Darfur. And then everybody
said 'Never again' and along came Eastern Congo. It
may be that it's Africa. It may be there is a terrible
subterranean racism at work, it may be just an indifference
to the continent, but there is no justification in the
world for Darfur continuing as it has been. It's just
beyond the pale. The critical thing here is to go after
the government of China and to make sure that they understand
that this is going to be the Genocide Olympics, as it
has been termed. What China is doing is sustaining the
government of Sudan in an unholy alliance, wrecking
the lives of the people in Darfur, is what lies at the
heart of the problem.
Should Canada boycott the Olympics?
No, but we should protest outside the Chinese mission
in Ottawa. We should condemn China in a resolution in
the House of Commons. After all, we were the country
that actually moved the proposition "responsibility
to protect," which the United Nations embraced
in 2005. We have every right in the world to say the
responsibility to protect applies to Darfur, and we
cannot protect Darfur unless China behaves itself.
What did you think of the film
of Roméo Dallaire's book, Shake Hands With
The Devil? I loved it. I love Romeo Dallaire.
You're an honorary fellow of
the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
Yes, that was a surprise.
Do you think you would've liked
being a real, instead of honorary, physician? Oh,
God, no. I'm squeamish. I hate the idea of surgical
procedures. Whenever I have any procedure at all, I
insist on complete and total anesthetic.
You know, that's not very safe.
I know, but I don't care. If I cut my finger, I
need massive anesthesia.
Your son Avi uncovered a lot
of info about your father, David Lewis, on the CBC genealogy
program Who Do You Think You Are?, including
the fact that he was under RCMP surveillance most of
his life. How did you feel when you heard that?
I wasn't at all surprised. I think the RCMP is so discredited
in this country, it just means it is an unbroken line
from the days of my father. It's unbelievable. These
people are so dumb and they have done so much irrelevant
and destructive stuff in their lives, I can't believe
the RCMP still functions.
How thick do you think your
RCMP file is? I once got my file when I was in the
legislature and it was all press clippings! I could
have supplied them with some dandy stuff.
Like what? None of your
by Sam Solomon
5 things you didn't
His favourite African cuisine
I guess I enjoy Ethiopian cuisine most.
His politically surprising
musical taste I am happy with Mozart or Beethoven
or Tchaikovsky. I'm a traditional Tory when it
comes to music.
Why health policy analysts
don't have to stay in shape I regard all exercise
as indecent -- I want no part of it ever in my
life. Running for planes is as close as I come
to exercise, but I do enjoy baseball. Every other
sport is so violent I can't stand it.
Radical in politics, nonpartisan
on the diamond If I'm in New York, I'm a Yankees
fan. If I'm in Toronto, I'm a Blue Jays fan.
Can he name all the 28 universities
that have given him honourary doctorates?
I'm sure I could if pressed.