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HIV Non-Disclosure & the Criminal Law: Legal Developments & Community Responses

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From Summit 2010: Gay Men's Health

Presented by Cecile Kazatchkine, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Published in: Health & Medicine
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HIV Non-Disclosure & the Criminal Law: Legal Developments & Community Responses

  1. 1. Criminalization of HIV non-disclosure: an additional source of fear and anxiety for people living with HIV Gay Men’s Health Summit Vancouver November 2010 Cécile Kazatchkine Policy Analyst Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
  2. 2. About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (www.aidslaw.ca) promotes the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis, education, and community mobilization. The Legal Network is Canada’s leading advocacy organization working on the legal and human rights issues raised HIV/AIDS.
  3. 3. Criminal law and HIV non-disclosure <ul><li>In Canada, a PHA can be prosecuted for not disclosing HIV-positive status before engaging in an activity that represents a significant risk of HIV transmission. </li></ul><ul><li>People can be prosecuted even when no sexual partner was infected. </li></ul><ul><li>Criminal law is applied to exposure and HIV transmission. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Numbers <ul><li>Approx 70,000 people diagnosed with HIV in Canada since 1985. </li></ul><ul><li>More than 100 criminal prosecutions for HIV transmission and exposure from 1989 to 31 December 2009. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Significant increase in number of prosecutions since 2003 . Average approx 10 per year. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Most of the people who have been charged are men: 91%. </li></ul><ul><li>Vast majority of charges and convictions against HIV+ men who had sex with women. </li></ul><ul><li>- Around 10 cases of HIV+ women who have had sex with men </li></ul><ul><li>- Around 18 cases against HIV+ MSM </li></ul><ul><li>The majority of charges are in Ontario: 47%. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>BC accounts for 11% of the cases </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>83% of the people we know were convicted have been sent to jail. </li></ul><ul><li>E. Mykhalovskiy, G. Betteridge, and D. McLay, HIV Non-Disclosure and the Criminal Law: Establishing Policy Options for Ontario, July 2010. Funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network </li></ul>
  5. 5. Escalation in charges <ul><li>People have been charged for: </li></ul><ul><li>Criminal negligence causing bodily harm </li></ul><ul><li>(aggravated) assault </li></ul><ul><li>(aggravated) sexual assault </li></ul><ul><li>Murder </li></ul><ul><li>Attempted murder </li></ul>
  6. 6. The law <ul><li>The rule in R. v. Cuerrier – Supreme Court of Canada (1998) </li></ul><ul><li>Non-disclosure transforms consensual sex into a (sexual) assault when: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Non disclosure exposed an individual to a “ significant risk ” of serious bodily harm (i.e a significant risk of HIV transmission) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And that the individual would not have consented to sex had he/she known of his/her sexual partner’s HIV status </li></ul></ul><ul><li>There is an “aggravated” assault when a (sexual) assault endangers the individual’s life. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Lack of clarity in the law: what constitutes a “significant risk” under criminal law? <ul><li>Starting point: </li></ul><ul><li>Unprotected vaginal (and anal) sex = significant risk of HIV transmission = duty to disclose ( Cuerrier, 1998 ) </li></ul><ul><li>But what about other sexual activities and factors reducing the risk of HIV transmission? </li></ul><ul><li>Safer sex (condom; oral sex) </li></ul><ul><li>Undetectable viral load </li></ul><ul><li>= the law is not clear </li></ul>
  8. 8. Encouraging developments: the Mabior case <ul><li>October 2010 – Court of Appeal of Manitoba </li></ul><ul><li>A man was acquitted in Appeal on 4 counts of aggravated sexual assault when he carefully used a condom OR had unprotected sex but his viral load was undetectable. </li></ul><ul><li>“ [s]ignificant risk means something other than an ordinary risk. It means an important, serious, substantial risk.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ [l]egal assessments of risk in this area should be consistent with the available medical studies (…) [t]he application of the legal test in Cuerrier must evolve to account appropriately for the development in the science of HIV treatment.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ [c]riminal sanctions should be reserved for those deliberate, irresponsible or reckless individuals who do not respond to public health directives and who are truly blameworthy.” </li></ul>
  9. 9. Why are we concerned? <ul><li>Criminalization is a blunt instrument to deal with the complexity of HIV disclosure and risky sexual behaviours. </li></ul><ul><li>No evidence that it helps to prevent new infection. In fact, criminalization may undermine public health and prevention efforts. </li></ul><ul><li>Criminalization is an additional source of fear and anxiety for people living with HIV, especially when the law is unclear. </li></ul><ul><li>Criminalization reinforces stigmatization, especially when associated with sensational media coverage. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Examples of community responses <ul><li>Some activists and advocates are working together to restrict the expansive use of criminal law: </li></ul><ul><li>By developing evidence </li></ul><ul><li>By challenging the law </li></ul><ul><li>By challenging police and Crown practice </li></ul><ul><li>By challenging misinformation </li></ul>
  11. 11. Thank you for your attention! <ul><li>Thank you to </li></ul><ul><li>- Glenn Betteridge </li></ul><ul><li>- Eric Mykhalovskiy </li></ul><ul><li>- Stéphanie Claivaz- Loranger from COCQ-sida </li></ul><ul><li>- Ryan Peck from HALCO </li></ul><ul><li>for their contribution to this presentation </li></ul><ul><li>Cecile Kazatchkine </li></ul><ul><li>Policy Analyst </li></ul><ul><li>Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network </li></ul><ul><li>P hone : +1 416 595-1666 (poste 231) </li></ul><ul><li>cka [email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>www.aidslaw.ca </li></ul>
  12. 12. For more information <ul><li>Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network www.aidslaw.ca </li></ul><ul><li>HALCO www.halco.org </li></ul><ul><li>Ontario working group www.ontarioaidsnetwork.on.ca/clhe / </li></ul><ul><li>Cocq-sida www.cocqsida.com </li></ul><ul><li>E. Mykhalovskiy, G. Betteridge, and D. McLay, HIV Non-Disclosure and the Criminal Law: Establishing Policy Options for Ontario , July 2010. Funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network , available on www.aidslex.org . Copies of the report can be ordered for free at : http://orders.catie.ca/product_info.php?products_id=25769 </li></ul>

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