Michael Linhart died on October 27, 2004, one of Canada’s finest advocates for the rights and dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS.
For the past several years, Michael had been a member of the Board of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Michael fought for the right of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS to proper care and for the right of all prisoners to protect their health.
At the time of his death, he was in Ottawa to participate in a press conference launching the Legal Network’s report providing a comprehensive worldwide review of prison needle exchange programs. Michael wished to join his voice to the call for federal and provincial/territorial governments to implement pilot needle exchange programs in Canadian prisons.
Michael learned he was HIV-positive in 1991 while incarcerated in a federal institution. His diagnosis sparked the birth of an AIDS and prisoners’ rights activist, one of the first inmates in Canada to speak out publicly on HIV in prisons. While incarcerated, he presented at the BC HIV/AIDS Conferences of 1992 and 1994, and the International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Vancouver in 1996. He also contributed to the drafting of the report of the 1992 Expert Committee on AIDS in Prison.
In 1993, Michael helped found the BCPWA Prison Outreach Program and, after being granted parole, went on to become its first coordinator in 1998, continuing the struggle for the rights and dignity of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS. In 2002, he received the Canadian AIDS Society’s Leadership Award. Michael’s dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS was deepened by his own experiences as a former sex trade worker, drug user, gay man and prisoner, and as someone also co-infected with hepatitis C. — With thanks to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.