Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network/Facebook)

Don’t criminalize all HIV patients: advocates

Groups want provinces to have consistent policies on limiting HIV prosecutions

Advocacy groups are calling on provinces to follow the Justice Department’s directive to stop unjustly prosecuting HIV-positive people for not disclosing their status if there is no chance they could transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

The directive to limit prosecutions involving people who are on HIV treatment was issued in December but applies only to federal Crown attorneys in the three territories.

Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said international scientific consensus on HIV transmission was reviewed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and informed the federal decision.

Ontario had already amended its policies but in a limited way to no longer prosecute people with a suppressed viral load and Elliott said Alberta has said in a letter to the network it has done the same but without stating that in a policy.

The federal directive goes further in saying people who also use a condom or engage in oral sex should generally not face serious charges such as aggravated sexual assault.

RELATED: Man accused of failing to disclose HIV-positive status says police launched ‘smear campaign’

“We’ve written to all provincial attorneys general following the federal directive to say ‘Here’s the federal directive. We reiterate to you what the science is telling us and public-interest reasons for you to appropriately limit the use of criminal law.’”

Inconsistent policies mean that HIV-positive people in most provinces may fear being threatened with prosecution by partners who have no basis for a complaint and could even shun treatment based on stigma and discrimination, Elliott said.

In July 2018, scientists from around the world, including Canada, published a consensus statement on HIV transmission in relation to criminal law in the Journal of International AIDS Society. It said correct use of a condom prevents transmission and that possibility is further decreased or eliminated when someone has a viral load that is low or undetectable.

RELATED: Circle of support fights stigma on World Aids Day

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and other organizations are currently pushing Attorney General David Eby to limit HIV prosecution in British Columbia.

“There is not a single circumstance identified in the current BC Prosecution Service policy where they say we will not prosecute even though both Ontario and the feds and Alberta, in a letter, have somehow been able to clearly state that no, we will not prosecute in our jurisdiction someone who has a suppressed viral load.”

Eby was not available for comment.

Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for the prosecution service, said the province is reviewing its policy and has been considering amendments to incorporate the directive of the federal attorney general.

The review will endeavour to ensure B.C.’s policy “addresses both public safety concerns and the issues of fairness and equity in a manner consistent with the law,” he said in a statement.

Elliott, who will be one of the speakers on the issue Tuesday at Simon Fraser University, said about 210 people across the country have been prosecuted for alleged HIV non-disclosure, the second-highest number in the world, after the United States.

Valerie Nicholson of Vancouver has been HIV-positive since 2004 and said her viral load has been negligible since 2008 because of the antiretroviral medication she takes.

RELATED: About 10 new HIV infections a year in northern B.C.

Nicholson, who is a member of the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization, said B.C. is “behind the times” with its disclosure policy.

She said she always reveals her status to sexual partners but that information was used against her by a man who informed her a year and a half after their relationship ended that she transmitted the virus to him and he would call police.

“I lived in fear for six months waiting for that knock on the door for the cops to be there,” she said. “I work in this field and if that can do that to me what does it do for someone (else)? Do they stay in an abusive relationship?”

Her big worry was that she had no way to prove she’d had a conversation with the man about her HIV status at the beginning of their relationship, Nicholson said.

Angela Kaida, a Simon Fraser University global health epidemiologist with an interest in the links between HIV and sexual and reproductive health, said the evolving conversation around the virus that is treatable needs to include the latest scientific evidence.

“People can live a normal life expectancy, they can have babies, those babies can be HIV-negative and healthy. People can have sex without a condom and not transmit HIV,” said Kaida, who will also be a featured speaker at the university on Tuesday.

“We have that science but what we haven’t resolved is the stigma, the discrimination and misinformation about HIV. What the evidence tells us that even if we criminalize people it’s not serving a public health goal.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Smithers woman killed in Oct. 16 car crash

A memorial will be held for Rain Reeves on Oct. 29 at Smithers Golf and Country Club

Fire on Main Street guts an apartment

Blaze leaves five homeless but no one was seriously injured

Smithers golfer competes in university golf nationals

Mitchell Turko shot a final round 73 to finish tied for 24th

Climate, reconciliation and industry top all candidates agenda in Terrace

Debate was the candidate’s last opportunity to address voters in a public forum

Smithers fighter wins bronze at karate worlds

Lando Ball narrowly missed a chance to fight in the gold medal match in Austria

Second young woman dies after rollover crash near Williams Lake

‘Someone’s going to get her heart, which is awesome, because she has the best heart in the world’

Google searches for ‘how to vote’ surge on Election Day

Interest spikes despite social media campaign by Elections Canada

Alberta man pleads guilty, fined for hunting without a licence in North Island

It’s the responsibility of each hunter or angler to know whether they are considered a B.C. Resident.

B.C. mayor apologizes for removal of Queen’s portrait from council chambers

‘I prefer to be inclusive of the many aspects of our history’

Alcohol a possible factor in crash that killed 17-year-old girl near Williams Lake

A pickup truck left the road and rolled over on Highway 20 on the weekend

Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

It’s the first time a yellow-browed warbler has been reported on the mainland of North America

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

Most Read