The Week — Sept. 13: Clowning around with AIDS

Members of Victoria AIDS Resource and Community Service raise awareness with hugs, Beereaucrats drain festival and more

Michael Yoder and his team give out free hugs to spread the word about an upcoming HIV/AIDS walk.

A  particularly unusual flashmob hit a downtown corner this week, when one group decided it was time to clown around with AIDS awareness.

Members of Victoria AIDS Resource and Community Service Society (VARCS) gathered on the corner of Douglas and Fort on Fri., Sept. 7, to give away free hugs, handshakes and information about the upcoming annual AIDS Walk for Life taking place on Sept. 20. But, instead of just sporting the usual red shirts, the group donned stickers and clown costume fanfare to add a little humour to a very serious topic.

“We’re trying to be more festive, and emphasize the idea of loving life, and the fact that people living with HIV are still vibrant people,” says Michael Yoder, executive assistant at VARCS and prolific hugger. “We are all connected. What better way to show that than through hugs?”

Yoder and the team got the idea from the First Nations tradition of recognizing “Heyoka,” the sacred clown. This clown is considered essential to the smooth functioning of the tribe.

“Heyoka is considered ‘the fool’ and will dance backwards and do all these crazy things, but he also looks at life in a different way, and makes people see themselves in a new light,” says Yoder.

Beereaucrats drain festival

Patrons of this year’s Great Canadian Beer Festival might have choked when they heard organizers announce this could be the last Victorians saw of the popular boozy event, due to stricter liquor control laws.

But don’t put the stein down yet: the festival will do its best to stumble into another season if the crew has anything to say about it.

“I guess the best way to put it is, despite all attempts by the liquor control branch, we will strive to keep the festival going,” says co-founder John Rowling. “If we get to a point where we are knocking heads and it’s becoming impossible, we will be asking the public for help.”

Rowling announced at the opening of the 20th-annual festival on Fri., Sept. 7, that this could be the last of it, unless organizers can find ways to work around newly enforced laws by the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) — laws that resulted in this year’s loss of bringing in American breweries not already in B.C., an inability for the festival to charge two tokens for higher-alcohol beers, an inability for directors to move leftover “open alcohol” from kegs at the fest to the after party, along with stringent regulations around how much funding the group is allowed to keep as a non-profit.

“What we’re experiencing here are a number of people at the branch who are deciding to enforce the laws rather than interpret them,” says Rowling. “We’re lumped into the same ‘special occasion’ licensing category as weddings, bar mitzvahs and baseball games — we just don’t fit.”

Ideally, Rowling says, he hopes the LCLB will develop a new licensing category specific to alcohol events and festivals. Short of that, he says the festival will be counting on cooperation — or pulling the plug.

Despite the soggy situation, Rowling says this year’s fest was as successful as ever, selling out long before the event and carrying through with no major hitches as usual. “When I was 65, I told Gerry I was going to retire — that was 20 years ago,” he says. “Beer is just too much fun.”

Hey, is that seat taken?

Despite all the local council candidates and politicians stepping forward to announce their intentions NOT to run for the Denise Savoie’s cooling seat as Victoria’s NDP MP, one lesser-spotlit local has stepped up to intentionally claim the spot.

Murray Rankin, a Victoria lawyer, professor and environmental law enthusiast, announced this week that he will seek the NDP federal nomination for Victoria. “Here in Victoria, we have benefited from the remarkable representation provided by Denise Savoie.  We must honour her achievements and the legacy of Jack Layton with new ideas to invigorate the national debate.”

Rankin, who taught environmental law at UVic for more than a decade, becomes the first candidate officially eyeballing the seat.

Meanwhile, across the water, Esquimalt resident Susan Low has become the first candidate to be nominated by the Green Party of BC for the May 2013 provincial election. Low is a community adviser with the Victoria Foundation, owns a consulting group in Victoria, and is an international competitive rower.

Eyes peeled to see who else is brave enough to officially declare they aren’t afraid of local politics. M

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