STATEMENT: Response to Justice Committee’s report on the criminalization of people living with HIV

For immediate release. Également disponible en français. 

The following statement is issued by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (“Legal Network”). Comments can be attributed to Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Legal Network.

 

June 17, 2019 Today the House of Commons Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights has released its report “The Criminalization of HIV Non-Disclosure in Canada.” The report contains several important recommendations to limit the broad, unscientific and unjust use of the criminal law against people living with HIV. We welcome many of the conclusions in this report. Now concrete action must follow.

 

The first clear stand-out recommendation is to remove HIV non-disclosure from the reach of sexual assault law. People living with HIV currently face imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault and a lifetime designation as a sex offender for not disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners, even in cases where there is little or even zero risk of transmission. This means a person engaging in consensual sex that causes no harm, and poses little or no risk of harm, can be prosecuted and convicted like a violent rapist. We welcome the Committee’s recognition of this unjust reality and their call to end the use of sexual assault laws. We and our allies have spent many years advocating for this critical change.

 

Another stand-out recommendation is limiting the criminalization of HIV to actual transmission only. But we must go further: criminal prosecution should be limited to cases of intentional transmission as recommended by the UN’s expert health and human rights bodies. Parliament should heed such guidance. Criminal charges and punishments are the most serious of society’s tools; their use should be limited and a measure of last resort. We welcome the recommendation to “. . . draft the contemplated legislation in consultation with all relevant stakeholders including the HIV/AIDS community”; indeed, we have been calling for such collaboration for a very long time.

 

However, infectious diseases are a public health issue and should be treated as such. We strongly disagree with the recommendation to extend the criminal law to other infectious diseases. We will not solve the inappropriate use of the criminal law against people living with HIV by punishing more people and more health conditions.

 

The next step is actual law reform. The report makes clear that change to the criminal law is needed. Any new legal regime must avoid the harms and stigma that have tainted the law these past 25 years.

 

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Contact

Emma Riach, Communications and Campaigns Officer

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Telephone: +1 416 595-1666 ext. 236

Email: eriach@aidslaw.ca

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