The Liberal government wants to limit the cases where Canadians are prosecuted for not revealing they’re HIV-positive when they pose a “negligible” risk to their sex partner.
A new study from the federal Justice Department released today says the criminal justice system has not kept pace with scientific strides in HIV treatment, leaving too many Canadians facing prosecution for non-disclosure.
Current research shows that having sex with an HIV-positive partner who is taking treatment and has a suppressed viral load poses little or no risk of transmission.
“A person living with HIV who takes their treatment as prescribed is acting responsibly,” it reads.
Yet the report says HIV is treated in “an exceptional way” by the criminal justice system compared to other transmissible diseases like hepatitis B, C and human papillomavirus. Prosecutions for nondisclosure of HIV appear to be “disproportionate and discriminatory” given the relatively high number, according to the study.
Statistics show people from marginalized backgrounds, including Indigenous, gay and black persons, are more likely than others to be living with HIV in Canada. Fear of stigma and prosecution can deter people from getting tests and treatment, according to the report.
New prosecution guidelines
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the study underscores the need for the criminal justice system to adapt to medical advancements and scientific evidence. She wants to discuss new prosecution guidelines with her provincial and territorial counterparts, but stopped short of promising legal reform.
“Our government is taking action to help reduce the stigmatization of persons living with HIV, including undertaking an evidence-based approach to addressing HIV non-disclosure in the criminal justice system,” she said in a statement.
Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, called the report “heartening” and a “welcome step forward.” But he said provinces must adopt prosecution directives that decriminalize cases not only where the person is taking treatment, but also where the person has taken precautions.
“You should not be prosecuting people who use condoms, you should not be prosecuting people for engaging in oral sex. The science doesn’t warrant it,” he said. “So…