Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday apologized for comparing the stigmatization of people who will not get vaccinated against the Chinese coronavirus to the treatment of HIV and AIDS patients in the early years of those diseases.

Kenney made his apology on Twitter, where it was not terribly well-received:


During his news conference on Tuesday, Kenney remarked that the debate over vaccination mandates has deeply divided the people of Alberta. He said he was uncomfortable with the way unvaccinated people were being treated as “somehow unclean.”

“Everybody should avail themselves of the protection of safe and effective vaccines, and that the choice not to get vaccinated is not just a personal choice — it does have social consequences,” Kenney said.

“But it’s never OK to treat people like that, to stigmatize people in that way,” he continued. “In a way, it kind of reminds me of the attitudes that circulated in North America in the mid-1980s about people with HIV/AIDS — that there’s this notion that they had to be kind of distanced, for health reasons.”

“That was a wrong analogy to make, and I apologize for having done so. It’s one of the pitfalls of improvising an analogy. I shouldn’t have done that,” he repeated in a radio interview on Wednesday.

“I think the point I was trying to make, and did so inappropriately, was that I’ve heard people saying they don’t want to be in a restaurant or business with somebody who isn’t vaccinated. They’re afraid of that. And I think that’s an irrational fear. It’s a phobia which leads to stigmatization and I don’t think that’s healthy in a society like ours,” he explained.

“The reality is that with the transmissibility of the current variant, plus the waning protectiveness of vaccines against infection or transmission, that vaccinated people are almost as likely to transmit the virus as unvaccinated people,” Kenney mused.

“It’s very problematic if we start, as a society, to accept the idea that we’re unsafe being in the presence of people who are unvaccinated,” he concluded.

The Toronto Star theorized the backlash against Kenney’s original remarks was fierce because he has “faced widespread criticism in the past for his own activism against LGBTQ rights in the 1980s, including the time he spent in San Francisco during that decade.”

“There’s an old recording of him speaking about how he helped overturn a law extending hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples during the AIDS crisis. It made headlines during the 2019 provincial election, which Kenney went on to win,” the Toronto Star recalled.

Another Toronto Star article on Wednesday sampled some of the negative responses to Kenney’s HIV/AIDS comparison:

“Don’t you dare bring up AIDS in your COVID comments (Jason Kenney) and pretend you’re some sort of human rights defender. We know your record on that. You fought to keep gay people from visiting their dying partners in hospital. Stop,” MLA of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood Janis Irwin tweeted.

… “It was infuriating and painful. It reawakened a lot of hurt that I carry with me after growing up in a very anti-gay fundamentalist Christian community,” Shanebeck, a PhD candidate at University of Alberta told the Star.

Growing up gay in a “hostile community,” Shanebeck says Kenney’s statement perpetuates a “ridiculous victim complex that many privileged people have when they face any expectations on their actions for the common good.”

Most of the responses collected by the Star asserted that Kenney had no right to mention AIDS patients because of his past political positions.

“My friends who died of AIDS had no choice and it is just appalling for Kenney to make this comparison. What is even more awful is that Kenney also has a long history of fighting against the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ people. He can apologize but his statement still shows his continued ignorance and insensitivity,” said Dignity Network Canada Executive Director Doug Kerr.

“The premier’s comments were unconscionable, reprehensible, and morally bankrupt. Especially, given his past history of actively fighting against LGBT human rights,” said MacEwan University associate professor Kristopher Wells.

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