NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Canada’s Highest Court Rules On HIV-Disclosure Law

In a pair of decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that the current law demanding HIV-positive people disclose their status to sex partners does not apply in certain circumstances.

The court indicated that the obligation to share one’s HIV status can be dispensed if a condom is used and the positive partner’s viral load is low. Specifically, the judge ruled that in order to obtain a conviction for aggravated sexual assault, prosecutors must prove the accused failed to disclose his or her HIV status when there was “a realistic possibility” of transmission.

Though that’s better than the situation in several U.S. states, Canadian activists are disappointed with the ruling, which they see as stigmatizing: “It is a step backward for public health and for human rights,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “The Supreme Court has ignored the solid science and has opened the door to convictions for non-disclosure even where the risk of transmission is negligible—in the realm of 1 in 100,000.”

Elliott predicted the judgment would stymie public-health initiatives aimed at increasing HIV testing: “It creates another disincentive to getting an HIV test and creates a further chill on what people can disclose to health professionals and support workers.”