HIV: Disclosure Laws Remain A Barrier To Improving Access To Treatment In Canada
Education and Advocacy Living with HIV is the reality for more than 70,000 people in Canada, a quarter of whom don’t know they even have it. Encouraging testing and connecting people to care are public health priorities.
But stigma remains a powerful barrier: 29 percent of Canadians hold moderate-to-high levels of stigma toward people living with HIV. Those who are HIV-positive are often harassed, may lose their jobs, or face social ostracism or discrimination in services. Disclosing you have HIV is very difficult and can carry significant risks economically and socially.
A look at the law
The overly broad and unjust use of the law is only making things worse. In Canada, people living with HIV have been charged with aggravated sexual assault — one of the most serious offences — based on accusations of not disclosing their status to a sexual partner. If convicted, someone can face years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
All this can happen even if there was no actual transmission of HIV, or intent to transmit. Furthermore, the law is ignoring the science: even if a condom is used or the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load, which means they pose zero or negligible risk of infection to their partner, they may still end up being convicted.
"HIV has changed but the law hasn’t caught up. It’s time to ask whether disclosure laws are doing more harm than good."
There is no evidence that criminalization helps prevent new HIV infections. But there are serious concerns that it reinforces discrimination against people living with HIV and undermines public health — by creating another barrier to getting tested.
What science has to say
This is why more than 75 Canadian medical experts have endorsed a bold consensus statement on HIV and its transmission in the context of the criminal law, to help inform members of the legal system about the science of HIV. We’ve made tremendous progress in preventing and treating HIV.
Properly used, a latex condom is a 100 percent effective barrier to the virus. And when an HIV-positive person is being effectively treated, the risk of transmission is close to zero.
HIV has changed but the law hasn’t caught up. It’s time to ask whether disclosure laws are doing more harm than good.