Federal government recognizes over-criminalization of people with HIV

World AIDS Day is December 1.  As we remember and honour those who died, we continue, alongside people living with HIV and allies, to fight for social justice every day.

While there remains no cure for HIV, currently available medications are effective at keeping HIV in check. People living with HIV who have access to health care and medications have more or less the same life expectancy as those who are HIV-negative. Knowledge of prevention strategies is also better than it has ever been and it is much harder to transmit HIV than generally supposed. For example, the transmission risk is negligible if not zero if a condom is used properly or if a person living with HIV is being successfully treated with antiretroviral medications.

While this new reality must not be ignored, many people, including in Ontario, face significant institutional, social and economic barriers to accessing health care and life-saving medications. Moreover, social attitudes have not nearly kept pace with science. HIV-related stigma and accompanying discrimination remain pervasive. It is shameful that, based on a 2012 Canada-wide study,

  • 15% of Canadians feel afraid of people with HIV;
  • 24% feel uncomfortable wearing a sweater once worn by a person living with HIV; and
  • 22% feel uncomfortable shopping at a small neighbourhood grocery store owned by someone living with HIV.

Such attitudes influence action, public policy, and law. One such example is Canada’s unjust criminalization of people living with HIV. People are facing charges of aggravated sexual assault, designed to respond to the most horrific of forced sex acts, even in circumstances where (i) sexual behaviour is consensual; (ii) there is negligible to no risk of HIV transmission; (iii) there is no intention to transmit HIV; and (iv) transmission does not occur.

For some time, people living with HIV, community organizations, and legal and scientific experts have been calling for an overhaul of the current use of the criminal law in relation to HIV.

Today, we commend the federal government for recognizing the over-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure and committing to working with community to effect change. The government’s press release can be found at http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1163979.

A joint statement from HALCO and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is on our website HIV and Human Rights Organizations Welcome Federal Government’s Interest in Ending Unjust HIV Criminalization:

We look forward to continuing working with people with HIV and others to bring the law in line with science and human rights principles.

If you are living with HIV in Ontario and have questions about criminalization of HIV or other legal issues, please contact us for free legal advice.

 

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