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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Calgary, on Feb. 8.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he’s sorry for comparing what he calls the stigma of being unvaccinated for COVID-19 to the plight of HIV-AIDS patients in the 1980s.

“In my news conference yesterday I made an inappropriate analogy to the stigmatization of people with AIDS. I was wrong to do so and apologize without reservation,” Kenney posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Kenney drew the analogy while announcing the end of the province’s vaccine passport, known as a restrictions exemption.

Non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants, are no longer required to ask customers to show proof of vaccination before being allowed inside.

Kenney said he’s concerned about rifts in society over the rules and called out those who don’t want to sit in restaurants next to the unvaccinated.

“That sentiment deeply concerns me,” he said. “Treating fellow people as though they are 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.

“But it’s never OK to treat people like that, to stigmatize people in that way.

“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 [was] this notion that they have to be kind of distanced for health reasons.”

Kenney has a personal tie to the issue.

In his younger days in San Francisco, he organized support to overturn a law extending hospital visitation rights to gay couples. It was a move aimed at preventing people from visiting their dying partners.

The Opposition NDP labelled Kenney’s comparison deplorable.

“Don’t you dare bring up AIDS in your COVID comments and pretend you’re some sort of human rights defender. We know your record on that,” Janis Irwin, NDP critic on women’s and LGBTQ issues, wrote on Twitter.

“You fought to keep gay people from visiting their dying partners in hospital. Stop,” said Irwin.

Kris Wells, an LGBTQ advocate and researcher, said he found the comments to be inappropriate and reprehensible, “in particular given premier Kenney’s history of actively fighting against the rights of partners to visit their dying loved ones in hospitals in San Francisco.

“Apologies don’t mean anything without meaningful action supporting them,” said Wells, associate professor and Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

“We haven’t seen premier Kenney do anything to actively support the LGBTQ2 community persons living with HIV in our province.”

Kenney’s San Francisco activism first made news in Alberta in late 2018, when Kenney was running to become Alberta premier and a two-decade old recording surfaced in which he boastfully touted his role in organizing a petition to repeal visiting rights for gay people.

Kenney, who is a Catholic, says on the tape he believes his actions brought him spiritually closer to his church.

When asked about the tape in 2018, Kenney responded: “Sure, there are things that I’ve done and said in my life that I regret.”

“Is [the San Francisco commentary] one of them?” he was asked.

“Sure,” he replied. “I can tell you in 2003 and ‘04 and ‘05 you can look at the [Parliament] Hansard transcript and see me supporting domestic partner arrangements for dependent couples regardless of sexual orientation.

“That has been my long-standing public view.”

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