After 25 years, AIDS PEI continues to overcome misconceptions surrounding infection


Trenton Smith and Dresmond Cudmore of the Lone Cry Singers play a song midway through the event. The aboriginal community is heavily involved with AIDS PEI. Daniel Brown photo.

By Daniel Brown

Feb. 3, 2017

Rev. John Lacey remembers the 1980s, when his friend was diagnosed as HIV-positive.

Whenever Lacey visited his friend, he would avoid using the towels out of fear of becoming infected.

In 1989, Lacey’s friend died due to the infection. Because of this, Lacey aimed to better understand HIV-AIDS.

“It made me aware of this whole phenomenon.”

In 1991, he helped create a board on P.E.I. to educate people about HIV-AIDS.

Lacey is not on the AIDS PEI board anymore, but he was invited to speak at an event on Feb. 1 at the UPEI Chaplaincy Centre.

The event was to celebrate World AIDS Day and Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, which takes place in early December but was delayed due to inclement weather.

It consisted of presentations, a candlelight vigil for victims of HIV-AIDS, and music by the aboriginal drum group Lone Cry Singers.

While it still exists today, there used to be much more shame in being HIV-positive. People would hide their diagnosis due to the nature of the infection, especially from family, Lacey said.

“The big thing around that time too was the fear factor.”

HIV-AIDS only spreads if someone with it has sex or shares blood injection equipment. When Lacey first started the organization, the mandate was simply to tackle the many misconceptions surrounding it.

“Now it’s broader. Much broader.”

AIDS PEI has branched out, aiming to improve the lives of those with HIV-AIDS, those affected, and those at risk.

Cybelle Rieber is executive director of AIDS PEI. She provided a brief timeline of AIDS, noting advancements in medicine and its global effect.

In 2015, 1.1 million people died of AIDS, Rieber said.

“Our numbers are not going down. HIV did not go away, and we still have a lot of work to do.”

The organization is very involved with the aboriginal community, because HIV-AIDS has taken a huge toll on them. It is also doing more with the LGBTQ+ community by starting a youth group and holding workshops, Rieber said.

“[It’s] opportunity to reflect, create space for healthy dialogue, and overcome stigma.”

Throughout its 25-year history, AIDS PEI has had many HIV-positive individuals affiliated with its board, which helped them spread their message.

Troy Perrot-Sanderson was diagnosed as HIV-positive when he was 21-years-old. The P.E.I. local became used to others being uncomfortable around him due to the infection.

“Most of the time I used humour to get past that little bit.”

Perrot-Sanderson was originally thought to have only five years to live, which pushed him into a shell, he said.

Twenty-four years later, Perrot-Sanderson considers himself lucky, and is very grateful for the support he gets from his family, his friends, and AIDS PEI.

“It is what it is. You live with it.”