Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Advocates Call for Changes to Canada's HIV/AIDS Disclosure Law, Call It 'Unfair'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Advocates Call for Changes to Canada's HIV/AIDS Disclosure Law, Call It 'Unfair'

Article excerpt

Canada's HIV disclosure law unfair: activists

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TORONTO - The recent arrests of two men accused of failing to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners have renewed calls for changes to the current legislation that advocates say contributes to the fear and stigma surrounding the disease.

Canadians with HIV are legally required to disclose their status to their partner before engaging in sexual activity. Those who fail to do so can be charged with aggravated sexual assault, whether the virus is transmitted or not.

If convicted, they are automatically added to the sex offenders registry and face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

But advocates say Canada's HIV disclosure law has never been shown to deter unsafe sexual practices. Rather, they argue, it has made patients feel more isolated and fearful.

"People living with HIV tend to come from many marginalized groups already," said Sandra Chu of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "(The law is) adding a further layer of marginalization and fear."

Chu said she would like Canada to adopt HIV legislation proposed by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which would prosecute only people who knowingly and intentionally transmit the HIV virus to their partner.

There is a lack of definite evidence on whether criminalization deters HIV patients from exposing others, UNAIDS said in a report released in 2012. It also said that studies from Canada and the US show few people with HIV are aware of the legal requirements pertaining to their illness, and those who are, likely already disclose their status to partners.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has said people with HIV/AIDS report increased feelings of fear and stigma as a result of high-profile non-disclosure criminal cases.

"Stigma has a negative impact on prevention efforts by contributing to secrecy and HIV non-disclosure, reinforcing HIV risk and discouraging condom use in some communities," the agency said in a 2015 report.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the Canadian government is "aware of some of the criticisms of non-disclosure laws and appreciates the difficult circumstances individuals face" with regards to HIV disclosure. …

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