A recent landmark resolution of a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) has resulted in a number of positive changes for people living with HIV in prison in Canada.
A person with HIV filed a human rights complaint based on the fact that he experienced stigma and discrimination in a provincial correctional institution because of his HIV status. While in prison, he spent approximately three months in solitary confinement after other prisoners complained to correctional officers that they did not want him in their unit because he was living with HIV. While in segregation, his requests for medical attention and information on his situation went unanswered.
HALCO, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN) intervened in the Tribunal application to challenge this harmful practice.
In Canada and around the world, HIV rates are significantly higher among people in prison than in the general population. Segregating prisoners on the basis of their HIV status poses numerous harms to those prisoners, it can:
- create or exacerbate mental health issues,
- reinforce HIV-related stigma, and
- increase the risk of treatment interruptions or delays, HIV-related and otherwise.
This type of segregation also amounts to discrimination on the basis of disability under Ontario’s Human Rights Code and international human rights norms. HIV is recognized as a disability under the Human Rights Code, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission Policy on HIV/AIDS-related discrimination (www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-hivaids-related-discrimination) specifies that people living with HIV are:
- protected from HIV-related discrimination and harassment, and
- entitled to the maximum degree of privacy and confidentiality with respect to their status.
The United Nations International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights (www.unaids.org/en/resources/documents/2006/20061023_jc1252-internguidelines_en.pdf) specify that segregation and denial of access to prison facilities and privileges should be prohibited for prisoners living with HIV, and, segregation because of HIV status violates the principle of non-discrimination and the right to liberty of the person.
In June 2016, the parties resolved the matter before the Tribunal. The resolution requires the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to implement several systemic changes:
- to prominently display notices in all provincial correctional institutions on the rights of people living with HIV or AIDS in prison;
- to train correctional staff on issues relating to people living with HIV or AIDS in prison; and
- to allow voluntary workshops for prisoners in the Toronto South Detention Centre (the TSDC) on the myths and realities of HIV and AIDS.
The resolution requires the Ministry to involve the interveners in implementing the changes. As agreed in the resolution, the interveners have provided input on the correctional staff training and are in the process of drafting the proposed notices, and, PASAN is to conduct the workshops for prisoners in the TSDC.
The outcome of this case and the agreed-upon systemic changes represent a significant step forward in acknowledging the rights of people living with HIV in Ontario’s prisons. We hope it will encourage policies and practices that protect and promote the human rights of people living with HIV in correctional institutions across Canada.
If you are living with HIV in Ontario and have questions about this or any other legal issue, please contact us for free legal advice.