Canada: Top Canadian scientists release statement calling for measures to address the overly broad use of criminal charges in HIV non-disclosure cases

Canada’s top HIV researchers urge federal, provincial and territorial governments to act now to limit the use of the criminal law in HIV non-disclosure cases

MONTRÉAL, QC, April 6, 2017 — As the country’s premier national HIV research conference gets underway, the original co-signatories of the Canadian consensus statement on HIV and its transmission in the context of criminal law (2014) are releasing a statement expressing their deep concern about the ongoing, overly broad use of the criminal law in HIV non-disclosure cases, irrespective of the possibility of transmission or whether transmission actually occurred.

Used correctly, an unbroken condom offers 100% protection against HIV transmission. Several recent, large clinical trials have also found that effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevented HIV transmission to HIV-negative partners in both male same-sex and heterosexual sero-discordant couples.

“Now that we have data that clearly demonstrates people with HIV with undetectable viral loads are at basically zero risk of infecting their partners, it’s past time for the law to catch up with the science,” says Dr. Mona Loutfy, Women’s College Hospital, who is presenting at the annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research.

“When taken and monitored consistently, the ability of ART to prevent HIV transmission has been repeatedly demonstrated. It is time that the criminal law recognizes this,” adds Dr. Rupert Kaul from the University of Toronto.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2012 that disclosure is required before sex that poses a “realistic possibility” of HIV transmission. However, since that ruling, individuals have been prosecuted regardless of whether transmission occurred and even in cases posing no realistic possibility of transmission. This has led to further fear and uncertainty in the HIV community regarding disclosure obligations. The federal Department of Justice is consulting with senior officials from provincial and territorial governments to review how HIV non-disclosure cases are prosecuted.

At the 2014 annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research, nearly 80 scientific experts on HIV released a peer-reviewed consensus statement about the then-available science regarding HIV transmission possibilities associated with various acts, noting their concern that the criminal justice system was out of step with the science. Additional research results since then have further confirmed the conclusions in that statement. Last December, on World AIDS Day, the federal Minister of Justice acknowledged the need to take action to address the overly broad use of criminal charges.

The Board of Directors of the Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR), the host of CAHR 2017, supports the call for measures to limit the overly broad use of the criminal law, including developing prosecutorial guidelines that are informed by human rights and public health principles, and based on current scientific evidence regarding HIV transmission.

“In consultation with people living with HIV, public health and human rights experts, we urge the federal Minister of Justice and the provincial and territorial Attorneys General to develop prosecutorial guidelines that eliminate the serious adverse individual and public health impacts caused by the inappropriate use of the criminal law,” says Dr. Mark Tyndall, Executive Director of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control.


About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE— is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including government, health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians.

Published on BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS website on April 6, 2017