News / Edmonton

Alberta should curb prosecutions for HIV nondisclosure: Advocate

The Ontario government announced Crown attorneys will no longer prosecute certain cases of HIV-positive people who don’t disclose their status to their sexual partner

Brook Biggin, founder of the Edmonton Men's Health Collective and regional manager of the Community Based Research Centre for Gay Men's Health.

Kevin Tuong / Metro File

Brook Biggin, founder of the Edmonton Men's Health Collective and regional manager of the Community Based Research Centre for Gay Men's Health.

Advocates are urging Alberta courts to stop prosecuting HIV-postive people who don't tell their sexual partners their status, as long as they've been on medication for a certain length of time.

The call comes after a federal justice department report released Friday concluded that criminal law should generally not apply to people who are on HIV treatment, are not on treatment but use condoms, or engage only in oral sex.

The Ontario government also announced Friday, which was World AIDS Day, that Crown attorneys will no longer prosecute cases of HIV-positive people who don’t disclose their status to their sexual partner when the HIV-positive person has had a suppressed viral load for six months.

Viral load refers to the amount of HIV virus in a person's blood.

“It’s a huge step forward,” said Brook Biggin, founder of the Edmonton Men's Health Collective and regional manager of the Community Based Research Centre for Gay Men's Health.

“Our hope is that Alberta will make a sensible decision as well, and look at the evidence and follow suit."

The announcement was made in response to the report, which was titled “Criminal Justice System’s Response to Non-Disclosure of HIV" and backed by analysis from the Public Health Agency of Canada.  

The report found there is no realistic possibility of a person transmitting HIV if they have been on treatment and have an undetectable viral load.

Biggin said Canada is notorious for being “one of the worst countries” in terms of the number of recorded prosecutions for HIV nondisclosure.

The Canadian HIV Legal Network has recorded more than 200 prosecutions.

Because there is no specific law around nondisclosure in Canada, other laws are used to prosecute cases.

Offenders are often charged with aggravated sexual assault, with the idea being that a failure to disclose the condition invalidated consent, and that HIV could cause significant bodily harm.

Aside from often lengthy jail terms, those convicted have also faced mandatory designation as sex offenders.

“These are charges that ruin people’s lives,” Biggin said.

Veronica Jubinville, press secretary for Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, said in an e-mailed statement that the ministry is taking the report into consideration.

"We are evaluating how this potential change could impact our courts and these types of cases in Alberta," the statement reads.

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