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Peter Collins won't be attending a ceremony in Ottawa today where the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch are to name him the recipient of their 2008 Canadian Award for Action.

He will be in his cell at the medium-security Bath Institution, a federal correctional facility outside Kingston.

Mr. Collins has been behind bars since 1983 when, at 23, he shot and killed Constable David Utman as the member of the Nepean Police Service sat drinking coffee in an Ottawa shopping centre.

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"When he went in, he was a wild thing. He needed to be in jail," the inmate's father, Michael, said in a telephone interview. And for the first 10 years of his incarceration, he looked out only for himself, said the elder Mr. Collins. Then he decided his life in the lockup would be better spent if he tried to take care of others.

Correctional Services Canada would not permit an interview with Peter Collins. "He's always been at odds with the CSC over so many things. He's not their favourite boy," his father said.

The prison did, however, ask him to help counsel other inmates about the threat of the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. Peter Collins does not have the disease. But, like many prisoners, he covered much of his body in tattoos.

"They were using dirty needles," his father said. "So Peter got to realizing that this was dangerous. You are open to all sorts of things."

He stopped sticking needles into his arms. Then he tried to persuade other prisoners to give up the practice.

He has since co-authored an article on tattooing in prison entitled Driving the Point Home, which was used by CSC in the development of research for tattooing pilot projects.

Mr. Collins paints constantly and donates the art to the Prisoners' HIV/AIDS Support Action Network , which sells the works to support its programs. It was PASAN that nominated him for the award.

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Mr. Collins also does peer counselling from his cell.

"He is a marvellous talker. He can discuss a point with you until you give in," his father said.

Mr. Collins, who has also written a handbook for parole hearings that is in wide use throughout the prison system, was recently denied his own bid for freedom. In a written statement released by the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Peter Collins said the award was an "unexpected shock."

"I know that I'm only a small player in this ongoing human struggle and tragedy," he wrote. "I gratefully accept this honour and recognition on behalf of all those silenced by resistance and a lack of action displayed by our collective governments."

Richard Elliott, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said it is important for his group to use the opportunity of the awards to call attention to HIV in prisons.

"Peter has spent quite a few years being an advocate for individual prisoners to make sure that they get access to the health services they need, including prisoners with chronic conditions such as HIV," Mr. Elliott said.

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The AIDS organization did not know what crime Mr. Collins had committed until after he had been selected for the award. There is no desire "to minimize the pain that his past offence created for the family of the officer that was killed," Mr. Elliott said.

But "it's not really about what offence someone is in prison for. Whether he is in prison for shoplifting or, in this case, for killing a police officer, the point is prisoners should have access to the same types of health services as people on the outside."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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