George Smith is remembered by many as an intellectual force vital to AIDS ACTION NOW!, especially during the group’s early years.
AIDS ACTION NOW! is a community-based activist group from Toronto, which formed in response to government and medical inaction around HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. From the beginning, AIDS ACTION NOW! (AAN!) has centered around extending the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and improving their quality of life through access to treatment. As a direct action-oriented activist group, AAN! members spent much of the ’80s and ’90s leading demonstrations and protests, drafting policy papers, engaging in popular journalism and education work, and fighting for fundamental changes to the social organization of HIV/AIDS treatments in Canada. Their work continues today on a number of fronts, including resisting the criminalization of HIV, agitating around funding for HIV/AIDS work, and much more.
One of George’s most significant contributions to AAN! was his refusal to view AIDS as a death sentence. Instead, George worked to put into place the conditions under which AIDS could become a chronic, manageable condition. Rather than focus on solely on palliative care and prevention, George argued, the government and the medical community needed to invest in treatments to extend and improve the lives of people who were living with HIV/AIDS.
In the late 1980s, George conducted research into how AIDS treatment delivery was socially organized in Canada. Through both his activism and his research, George helped make visible the “lack of a mandate and managerial infrastructure” to deal with the delivery of experimental AIDS treatments in Canada (Smith 1990). This discovery led AAN! to advocate for the infrastructure necessary to ensure the effective delivery of treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Among George’s intellectual contributions to AAN! was his distinction between the social relations of research and the social relations of treatment. This analysis comes out of George’s work on the social organization of HIV/AIDS treatment delivery, and goes on to challenge the way that scientific research around HIV/AIDS was being conducted in Canada. George helped make visible how these two things were being conflated in clinical trials around HIV/AIDS treatments: if you were interested in getting treatments into people’s bodies, he argued, then double-blind placebo controlled trials were not the place to begin. Instead, George suggested focusing on the social relations of treatment, and on putting into place the infrastructure necessary for people to access life-saving drugs and treatments.
As an activist, researcher, and educator, George played a central role in AAN!’s media work. He engaged in popular education around HIV/AIDS treatments by writing columns for publications such as AIDS ACTION NEWS! and Treatment Update. He drafted briefing documents and policy proposals calling for effective and accessible treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS. Included in this was George’s work around advocating for the National AIDS Strategy to address the ongoing crisis of HIV/AIDS across Canada. Included in activists’ demands for the National AIDS Strategy was the creation of a national treatment registry, increased access to treatment and treatment information, increased funding for community groups and AIDS service organizations, anonymous HIV testing, and support for the removal of travel restrictions for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Interested in learning more about George’s work with AIDS ACTION NOW!? Check out the following resources made available by the AAHP:
- Transcripts from AAHP interviews with Sean Hosein, Gary Kinsman, Tim McCaskell, Glen Brown, Eric Mykhalovskiy and Brent Southin
- “ACTION = LIFE: Towards an Ontario AIDS Strategy: Four Steps to Delivery Treatment to People Living with AIDS and HIV,” a 1991 policy report prepared by members of AIDS ACTION NOW! (available here).
- “The AIDS National Treatment Registry: A potential first for Canada,” a 1990 article published in AIDS ACTION NEWS!, featuring AAN!’s proposed treatment registry, as designed by George Smith (available here).
- “A Treatment Registry: One more step in managing the delivery of AIDS treatments,” an article by George Smith and Darien Taylor, published in AIDS ACTION NEWS! (available here).
- “A National Treatment Registry for HIV and AIDS: An Urgent Call to Action,” a briefing document submitted to the federal government by members of AAN! in 1990 (available here).
- Policy document prepared for AAN!’s 1990 Annual General Meeting (available here).