Canada: Ontario will no longer prosecute people who don't disclose their HIV status if they have a suppressed viral load

Ontario to curb prosecution of HIV non-disclosure cases

Crown attorneys will not prosecute cases of HIV-positive people who do not disclose they have HIV if they have had a “suppressed” viral load, or amount of HIV, in their blood for six months.

The Ontario government announced Friday, 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 person who is HIV-positive has had a suppressed viral load for six months.

Viral load is the amount of the HIV virus in a person’s blood.

The announcement was a response to the federal justice department’s report titled “Criminal Justice System’s Response to Non-Disclosure of HIV,” released Friday.

The report, backed by analysis from the Public Health Agency of Canada, concludes that the criminal law should generally not apply to people who are on HIV treatment (which suppresses their viral load and makes transmission unlikely), are not on treatment, but use condoms, or engage only in oral sex.

“The realistic possibility of a transmission test is likely not met in these circumstances,” the report concludes.

The federal report recognized that HIV “is first and foremost a public health issue,” and concluded that non-disclosure prosecutions disproportionately affect people who are Indigenous, gay and Black.

While the province’s announcement to limit prosecutions was seen as modest progress, a number of organizations quickly pointed out that the government should only be prosecuting cases where there was actual, intentional transmission of HIV.

Ontario has been criticized by advocates as being a world leader in unjustly prosecuting HIV-positive people, typically charging them with aggravated sexual assault for failing to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partner.

Published in the Star on Dec 1, 2017

Canada: Federal Justice Ministry releases its long-anticipated report “Criminal Justice System’s Response to Non-Disclosure of HIV

Government releases Report on the Criminality of HIV non-disclosure

News Release

December 1, 2017 – Ottawa, ON – Department of Justice Canada

The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system protects Canadians, holds offenders to account, provides support to victims, meets the highest standards of equity and fairness, and respects the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Today, on World AIDS Day, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, released the Department of Justice Canada’s report entitled Criminal Justice System’s Response to the Non-Disclosure of HIV. The report represents a significant step forward in raising awareness and addressing concerns about the over-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure in Canada, which can discourage testing and treatment.

The report, developed in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada, reaffirms that HIV is fundamentally a public health issue. It provides a comprehensive review of the most recent medical science on the risks of HIV transmission through sexual activity and shows how the criminal law deals with cases involving the non-disclosure of HIV-positive status prior to sexual activity.

Once a fatal infection, HIV is now considered to be a manageable condition, thanks to significant medical advances in HIV treatment. Sustained treatment substantially improves quality of life and prevents the transmission of HIV.

The report examines stakeholder perspectives, approaches taken in other countries, public health responses to HIV cases, and criminal justice responses to HIV non-disclosure and draws several conclusions from this overview. Together, it informs an evidence-based approach to addressing HIV non-disclosure in the criminal justice system.

The report will provide valuable assistance to the Minister of Justice as she continues to work with her provincial and territorial counterparts on the way forward. Based on its conclusions and observations, she will be reviewing existing charging and prosecution practices leading to the possible development of prosecutorial guidelines for federal prosecutors.

Quotes

“There has been significant progress in the treatment, management and prevention of HIV infection since the first World AIDS Day observed in 1988. I am pleased to release this report today on World AIDS Day. It clearly demonstrates that our criminal justice system must adapt to better reflect this progress as well as current scientific evidence on HIV-AIDS. Our Government is taking action to help reduce the stigmatization of persons living with HIV, including undertaking an evidence-based approach to addressing HIV non-disclosure in the criminal justice system.”

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C., Q.C., M.P.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

“This report is critical to reducing HIV-related stigma in Canada. I will continue to work with my colleague, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, as well as with people living with HIV to reduce the stigma and discrimination they face, which can be barriers to prevention and treatment.”

The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Health

Quick Facts

  • Canada’s efforts to detect and treat HIV have resulted in the majority of persons living with HIV in Canada knowing their status and receiving appropriate treatment.
  • There is no HIV-specific offence in the Criminal Code. However, persons living with HIV who do not disclose their status are often charged with aggravated sexual assault because the non-disclosure is found to invalidate their partner’s consent to engaging in sexual activity in certain circumstances. This is the most serious sexual offence in the Criminal Code.
  • The criminal law applies to persons living with HIV if they fail to disclose, or misrepresent, their HIV status prior to sexual activity that poses a realistic possibility of HIV transmission.
  • As stated in the report, current research shows that sexual activity (with or without a condom) with a person living with HIV who is taking treatment as prescribed and has maintained a suppressed viral load (i.e., under 200 copies of HIV per ml of blood) poses a negligible risk of transmission. Across studies to date, there have been no confirmed cases of sexually transmitted HIV to an HIV-negative partner when the HIV-positive partner was continuously on antiretroviral therapy with sustained viral suppression.

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US: Center for HIV Law and Policy releases updated ‘HIV Criminalization Sourcebook’

Today, the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP) has released a third, updated version of their ‘Ending and Defending Against HIV Criminalization: State and Federal Laws and Prosecutions’ series, first published in 2010.

The renamed HIV Criminalization in the United States: A Sourcebook on State and Federal HIV Criminal Law and Practice updates and expands upon the previous versions with the inclusion of new reporting and analysis of laws and regulations allowing for quarantine, isolation and civil commitment of people living with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, in each jurisdiction.

This resource for lawyers and community advocates outlines punitive laws, policies, and cases affecting people living with HIV (PLHIV) and other communicable diseases in all fifty states, the military, federal prisons, and U.S. territories. It may be used as an aid for attorneys of people living with HIV prosecuted for “HIV exposure” or non-disclosure of HIV status, as well as for advocates who want to reform HIV-related criminal laws in their state.

The ‘HIV Criminalization Sourcebook’ catalogues and analyses state and federal HIV criminal laws in the United States, providing examples of recent prosecutions and explanations of the major cases applying these laws, along with text and analysis of state laws on other sexually transmitted diseases that involve criminal penalties or other restrictions for exposing another person to possible infection.

Specifically, it covers laws that:

1. criminalize non-disclosure of HIV status or exposure of a third party to HIV;

2. make exceptions to confidentiality and privacy rights of people living with HIV;

3. provide for sentence enhancements for people living with HIV convicted of underlying crimes such as ‘prostitution’ and ‘solicitation’; and

4. require sex offender registration for people living with HIV convicted of these ‘crimes’.

The Sourcebook is part of CHLP’s campaign to support state advocates through tools that expand legal literacy on HIV criminalization. In addition to the Sourcebook, CHLP’s website includes a separate page for each state summarizing relevant HIV and STI criminal law sections, so that users can download everything they need just for their state in addition to accessing the entire Sourcebook.

The Center for HIV Law and Policy will be co-hosting a webinar on October 11, 2017 to review ways to use the Sourcebook in HIV criminal reform efforts. The webinar also will explore some of the different strategic pathways to reform, along with benefits and drawbacks to those different options. The discussion will cover some of the key factors and questions to consider in deciding on what reform strategy makes the most sense in a given jurisdiction.

Read the full press release here

Download the HIV Criminalization Sourcebook here

US: California LGBT Caucus holds briefing on the proposed repeal of HIV criminalisation laws

On Thursday, the LGBT Caucus held a briefing on the decriminalizing HIV and SB 239 introduced by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

The controversial bill, Senate Bill 239, introduced in early February, would repeal laws passed more than three-decades ago that Wiener and supporters say are discriminatory and not based in science. The proposed bill would treat HIV like other communicable diseases under California Law.

According to the proposed bill, it would make it a misdemeanor instead of a felony to intentionally expose someone to HIV.

Here is a look at the Legislative Digest regarding the bill:

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

 

SB 239, as introduced, Wiener. Infectious and communicable diseases: HIV and AIDS:criminal penalties.
(1) Existing law makes it a felony punishable by imprisonment for 3, 5, or 8 years in the state prison to expose another person to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by engaging in unprotected sexual activity when the infected person knows at the time of the unprotected sex that he or she is infected with HIV, has not disclosed his or her HIV-positive status, and acts with the specific intent to infect the other person with HIV. Existing law makes it a felony punishable by imprisonment for 2, 4, or 6 years for any person to donate blood, body organs or other tissue, or, under specified circumstances, semen or breast milk, if the person knows that he or she has acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), or that he or she has tested reactive to HIV. Existing law provides that a person who is afflicted with a contagious, infectious, or communicable disease who willfully exposes himself or herself to another person, or any person who willfully exposes another person afflicted with the disease to someone else, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
This bill would repeal those provisions. The bill would instead make the intentional transmission of an infectious or communicable disease, as defined, a misdemeanor, if certain circumstances apply, including that the defendant knows he or she is afflicted with the disease, that the defendant acts with the specific intent to transmit the disease to another person, that the defendant engages in conduct that poses a substantial risk of transmission, as defined, and that the defendant transmits the disease to the other person. The bill would impose various requirements upon the court in order to prevent the public disclosure of the identifying characteristics, as defined, of the complainant and the defendant. By creating a new crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
(2) Under existing law, if a defendant has been previously convicted of prostitution or of another specified sexual offense, and in connection with the conviction a blood test was administered, as specified, with positive test results for AIDS, of which the defendant was informed, the previous conviction and positive blood test results are to be charged in any subsequent accusatory pleading charging a violation of prostitution. Existing law makes defendant guilty of a felony if the previous conviction and informed test results are found to be true by the trier of fact or are admitted by the defendant.
This bill would delete that provision. The bill would also vacate any conviction, dismiss any charge, and legally deem that an arrest under the deleted provision never occurred. The bill would require any court or agency having custody or control of records pertaining to the arrest, charge, or conviction of a person for a violation of the deleted provision to destroy, as specified, those records by June 30, 2018. By imposing this duty on local agencies, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would also authorize a person serving a sentence as a result of a violation of the deleted provision to petition for a recall or dismissal of sentence before the trial court that entered the judgment of conviction in his or her case. The bill would require a court to vacate the conviction and resentence the person to any remaining counts while giving credit for any time already served.
(3) Existing law requires the court to order a defendant convicted for a violation of soliciting or engaging in prostitution for the first time to complete instruction in the causes and consequences of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and to submit to testing for AIDS. Existing law requires such a defendant, as a condition of either probation or participating in a drug diversion program, to participate in an AIDS education program, as specified.
This bill would repeal those provisions.
(4) The bill would also make other conforming changes.
(5) The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that with regard to certain mandates no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.
With regard to any other mandates, this bill would provide that, if the Commission on State Mandates determines that the bill contains costs so mandated by the state, reimbursement for those costs shall be made pursuant to the statutory provisions noted above.

Here is a copy of the Press Release introducing the Bill on Feb 6


Senator Wiener and Assemblymember Gloria Announce Bill to Modernize Discriminatory HIV Criminalization Laws
Equality California, Positive Women’s Network – USA, ACLU and others join in support of bill to reform outdated laws enacted during a time of fear and ignorance to make them more consistent with laws involving other serious communicable diseases
February 6, 2017

 

Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) introduced a bill to modernize laws that criminalize and stigmatize people living with HIV. Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is also a co-author of the bill. Senate Bill 239 would amend California’s HIV criminalization laws, enacted in the 1980s and ‘90s at a time of fear and ignorance about HIV and its transmission, to make them consistent with laws involving other serious communicable diseases.

The bill is cosponsored by the ACLU of California, APLA Health, Black AIDS Institute, Equality California, Lambda Legal and Positive Women’s Network – USA. The organizations are part of Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR), a broad coalition of people living with HIV, HIV and health service providers, civil rights organizations and public health professionals dedicated to ending the criminalization of HIV in California. San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy also attended the announcement.

“These laws are discriminatory, not based in science, and detrimental to our HIV prevention goals,” said Senator Wiener. “They need to be repealed. During the 1980s — the same period when some proposed quarantining people with HIV — California passed these discriminatory criminal laws and singled out people with HIV for harsher punishment than people with other communicable diseases. It’s time to move beyond stigmatizing, shaming, and fearing people who are living with HIV. It’s time to repeal these laws, use science-based approaches to reduce HIV transmission (instead of fear-based approaches), and stop discriminating against our HIV-positive neighbors.”

SB 239 updates California criminal law to approach transmission of HIV in the same way as transmission of other serious communicable diseases. It also brings California statutes up to date with the current understanding of HIV prevention, treatment and transmission. Specifically, it eliminates several HIV-specific criminal laws that impose harsh and draconian penalties, including for activities that do not risk exposure or transmission of HIV. It would make HIV subject to the laws that apply to other serious communicable diseases, thereby removing discrimination and stigma for people living with HIV, and maintaining public health.

“It’s time for California to reevaluate the way it thinks about HIV and to reduce the stigma associated with the disease,” said Assemblymember Gloria. “Current state law related to those living with HIV is unfair because it is based on the fear and ignorance of a bygone era. With this legislation, California takes an important step to update our laws to reflect the medical advances which no longer make a positive diagnosis equal to a death sentence.”

“As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand the need to get outdated and unscientific laws based on homophobia and fear off the books,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “These laws criminalize and stigmatize people with HIV, and they must be updated.”

Legislators passed a number of laws three decades ago, at the height of the HIV epidemic, that criminalized behaviors of people living with HIV or added HIV-related penalties to existing crimes. These laws were based on fear and on the limited medical understanding of the time.  When most of these laws were passed, there were no effective treatments for HIV and discrimination against people living with HIV was rampant.

In the decades since, societal and medical understanding of HIV has greatly improved. Effective treatments dramatically lengthen and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV—treatments that also nearly eliminate the possibility of transmission. In addition, similar treatments are available to HIV-negative people to nearly eliminate risk of infection. Laws criminalizing people with HIV do nothing to further public health and, in fact, stigmatize them, discouraging testing or obtaining necessary medical care.  The laws also reduce the likelihood of disclosure of a positive HIV status to sexual partners.

“These laws are disproportionately used against women and people of color, and fuel stigma, violence and discrimination,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of the Positive Women’s Network – USA.  “Despite their claims to protect vulnerable communities, these laws actually cause further harm, both to people living with HIV and the broader public.”

HIV criminalization disproportionately affects women and people of color. Forty-three percent of those criminalized under California’s HIV-specific criminal laws are women, despite comprising only 13 percent of people living with HIV in the state. Blacks and Latinos make up two-thirds of people who came into contact with the criminal justice system based on their HIV status, despite comprising only about half of people living with HIV/AIDS in California.

“These laws impose felony penalties and harsh prison sentences on people who have engaged in activities that do not risk transmission and do not endanger public health in any way,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “Modernizing them would reduce discrimination and stigma for people living with HIV. Ending stigma is at the core of ending HIV. Treatment of HIV has entered the 21st century – it’s time for California’s laws to reflect that, as well.”

“Living with HIV should not be a crime in California,” said Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is the first HIV positive member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a leader in San Francisco’s Getting to Zero coalition to end all new HIV infections. “That’s why I support Senator Wiener’s legislation.”

In addition to the organizations sponsoring the bill, it is currently supported by CHCR members which include the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project, the Transgender Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Free Speech Coalition, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) and Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project (ESPLERP).

Published on East County Today on March 10th, 2017

Sweden: Government tasks Public Health Agency with HIV review to include "what need is there to provide specific information to the courts and other law enforcement authorities about the state of knowledge on the infectivity of HIV infection in a well-functioning treatment."

Knowledge State of the risk of infection by HIV should be followed up

 (Google translated English, Swedish original from Govemernment website below)
 

The Public Health Agency is commissioned to monitor how their knowledge base Infectivity in treated HIV infection have been applied. The Authority shall review the importance of documentation has been for health care initiatives related to disease transmission of HIV infection.

Monitoring should especially see how the surface influenced the conduct as a doctor under the Infectious Diseases Act announces to a patient, as well as the team’s importance in assessing the risks of transmitting HIV infection to a so-called in vitro fertilization (IVF).

– Knowledge of HIV has made great strides since the first cases were discovered. Today there are both more knowledge about the risks of infection and significantly better treatment to get. Therefore, we need to ensure that the knowledge is effectively applied so that people with HIV should be able to get as good treatment and good a life as possible, says health minister Gabriel Wikström.

The Public Health Agency shall also review what need is there to provide specific information to the courts and other law enforcement authorities about the state of knowledge on the infectivity of HIV infection in a well-functioning treatment.

In those parts of the mission involving the Public Health Agency IVF should consult with the National Board of Health and the Public Health Agency will also seek to involve other relevant stakeholders in the HIV field for the assignment.

The final report is due by 30 March 2018


 

Kunskapsläget om smittorisker vid HIV ska följas upp

 Folkhälsomyndigheten får i uppdrag att följa upp hur deras kunskapsunderlag Smittsamhet vid behandlad hivinfektion har tillämpats. Myndigheten ska se över vilken betydelse underlaget har fått för hälso- och sjukvårdens insatser som rör smittoöverföring av hivinfektion.

Uppföljningen ska särskilt se över hur underlaget påverkat vilka förhållningsregler som en behandlande läkare med stöd av smittskyddslagen meddelar till en patient, samt underlagets betydelse för att bedöma riskerna för att överföra en hivinfektion vid en så kallad in vitro fertilisering (IVF).

– Kunskapen kring HIV har tagit stora steg framåt sedan de första fallen upptäcktes. I dag finns både mer kunskap om smittoriskerna och betydligt bättre behandling att få. Därför behöver vi säkerställa att den kunskap som finns verkligen tillämpas så att personer med HIV ska kunna få så bra behandling och goda liv som möjligt, säger folkhälsominister Gabriel Wikström.

Folkhälsomyndigheten ska också se över vilket behov det finns att ta fram särskild information till domstolar och andra rättsvårdande myndigheter om kunskapsläget kring smittsamhet av hivinfektion vid en välfungerande behandling.

I de delar av uppdraget som berör IVF ska Folkhälsomyndigheten samråda med Socialstyrelsen och Folkhälsomyndigheten ska också sträva efter att involvera andra relevanta aktörer inom hivområdet för uppdraget.

Uppdraget ska slutredovisas senast den 30 mars 2018.

Canada: Eye-opening document on how Crown attorneys approach prosecuting HIV non-disclosure cases disclosed

Document on HIV non-disclosure prosecutions disclosed

Written by Alex RobinsonFriday, 13 January 2017

A newly disclosed document sheds some light on how Crown attorneys may have approached prosecuting HIV non-disclosure cases.

The Ministry of the Attorney General has released a document written by an assistant Crown attorney detailing her approach to prosecuting HIV non-disclosure cases.

The document discusses the admissibility of an accused person’s statements to public health as incriminating evidence — something human rights lawyers and HIV activists find troubling.

“The risk has always been that the use of an accused’s statements to public health would put a damper on HIV positive peoples’ willingness to be frank with public health, which puts their own health at risk and the population also at risk as well,” says Toronto lawyer Marcus McCann.

McCann says this approach could have a chilling effect on whether people with HIV will seek help from health professionals.

McCann obtained the document through a Freedom of Information request and subsequent years-long legal battle with the provincial government over whether the document should be disclosed.

Karen Shea, an assistant Crown attorney, wrote the document during the 2009 case of Johnson Aziga, an HIV-positive man who was convicted of murder for failing to disclose his status when he had unprotected sex with two women.

In the absence of an official set of prosecutorial guidelines for HIV non-disclosure cases, McCann first requested the document in the hope it could help discussions between the government and organizations that have been pushing the issue.

In November, the Divisional Court ordered MAG to release the document, and the provincial government decided not to appeal the decision.

The document includes a list of arguments against HIV non-disclosure criminalization and responses to them, which McCann says shows the government was aware of those critiques and had discarded them.

McCann says in the past there has been a view among HIV activists that they could push MAG to make meaningful change in the area if they could educate the ministry on current science.

“One of the things this document shows is that MAG knew full well what the concerns were with their approach and they were proceeding full steam ahead,” McCann says.

“It really is a document to my mind that is focused on prosecution at all costs and doesn’t take into consideration the kinds of situations in which a more lenient approach might be justified.”

Clare Graham, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, says the document is not an official set of prosecutorial guidelines.

“The document is the work product of an individual Assistant Crown Attorney based on her knowledge and experience prosecuting HIV exposure and transmission cases,” she said in an email.

“The Assistant Crown Attorney prepared this document not only for her own use but also to assist her colleagues in a difficult and complex area of the law; however, this document is not a Ministry issued policy or guideline.”

In the legal proceedings concerning the document’s disclosure, MAG conceded that multiple versions of the document existed and that it had been shared on an intranet accessible to all Crown attorneys.

The document was disclosed as the Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law and HIV Exposure called for a moratorium on prosecutions in HIV non-disclosure cases, unless they involve allegations of intentional transmission, while discussions take place to develop an official set of guidelines.

The working group and its member organizations have been working for years towards the development of a set of prosecutorial guidelines.

The working group has obtained a commitment in the past from the provincial government, only to never see any guidelines materialize, Peck says.

“Unfortunately the dialogue over the past seven or more years, from our perspective, has not been meaningful,” says Ryan Peck, the executive director of the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, who sits on the working group.

But Peck says the working group is hopeful that it will be able to engage in meaningful dialogue with Naqvi, who has been attorney general since June.

Peck says the guidelines will need to be developed to bring the prosecutions of these cases in line with up to date science and human rights principles.

The group most recently met with Naqvi at a roundtable discussion on the topic on Dec. 5.

The federal government issued its own statement on World AIDS Day in early December acknowledging the effects of the over-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. The statement, attributed to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, committed to examining “the criminal justice system’s response to non-disclosure of HIV status,” saying this could include a “review of existing charging and prosecution practices, as well as the possible development of prosecutorial guidelines.”

Graham says MAG is committed to working with the federal government to “examine the law in this important area.”

McCann says he hopes the disclosure of the document will mean that both CLHE and MAG are starting future discussions on and equal footing.

“My hope is that Yasir Naqvi, the attorney general, and the ministry of the attorney general approach the next phase of this process with honesty and integrity and that they come open to making some changes,” he says.

“I feel like this document is part of a story and the last chapter is yet to be written.”

Canada: Guidelines on prosecuting HIV non-disclosure in Ontario to be released

The Divisional Court has ordered the Ministry of the Attorney General to release a set of draft guidelines for prosecuting HIV non-disclosure cases.

An assistant Crown attorney developed the guidelines in the unprecedented 2009 case of Johnson Aziga, an HIV-positive man who was convicted of first-degree murder for failing to disclose his status when he had unprotected sex with two women.

The guidelines were shared throughout the province with Crowns involved in HIV prosecutions and uploaded to their intranet, says Toronto lawyer Marcus McCann, who sought the document as part of a larger Freedom of Information request.

The ministry refused to grant McCann’s request, arguing the guidelines were subject to solicitor-client privilege, but the Information and Privacy Commissioner sided with McCann.

“The fundamental unfairness that motivated me was that MAG has been able to avoid disclosure of this document simply by allowing Crowns to use this document created off the side of the desk without adopting it as official policy,” McCann says.

MAG sought judicial review of the privacy commissioner’s decision, but it was recently rejected by the Divisional Court.

The privacy commissioner, and later the Divisional Court, determined that solicitor-client privilege had actually been waived by the assistant Crown attorney who developed the draft guidelines, as they had been shared with a program manager with the Sexual Health and Harm Reduction of the City of Hamilton.

MAG said the document was shared with the official in order to get her “expert input, advice and assistance in relation to legal advice” in the guidelines, and it said that her input was necessary in order to ensure the document was accurate.

MAG also argued that the commissioner erred by failing to consider whether the ministry and the program manager had common interests, which would have preserved solicitor-client privilege. The ministry said the common interest was the reduction of harm and the protection of society, but the Divisional Court sided with the privacy commissioner, who said that interest was too broad and that the two entities have very different practical mandates.

“The Commissioner’s rejection of the common interest was reasonable. The result is justified, transparent and intelligible,” Justice Carolyn Horkins wrote in the Divisional Court decision, Ontario (Attorney General) v. Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), which was released on Nov. 15.

It is not clear whether the provincial government plans to appeal the decision, but McCann says that if and once the document is released, it could help those being prosecuted in HIV-related cases understand how Crown prosecutors are approaching these matters.

For years, AIDS services organizations have pushed the provincial government to develop an official set of guidelines for prosecuting HIV non-disclosure cases, but with little progress. Between 1989 and 2013, around 155 people were criminally charged in Canada for not disclosing they had HIV and a majority of these prosecutions occurred in Ontario, according to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Human rights lawyers say the problem with the lack of official guidelines for these HIV non-disclosure cases is that there is such a wide scope of charges defendants can face, some of which are very serious.

Ryan Peck, the executive director of HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, says those prosecuted in these cases often face aggravated sexual assault charges, which are used to prosecute serious forced sex acts.

In 2010, a group called the Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law and HIV Exposure launched a campaign calling on MAG to create a set of prosecutorial guidelines. The ministry agreed to do so, but after years of consultations and delays, an official set of guidelines has not materialized yet.

“The current use of the criminal law is simply out of step with science and human rights,” Peck says. A handful of lawyers, including Peck, on the working group were allowed to review draft guidelines in November 2014. It is unclear whether these are the same draft guidelines McCann requested, as the lawyers who reviewed the guidelines are not permitted to discuss their contents.

The lawyers who viewed the draft guidelines asked that the ministry not issue the guidelines, and MAG complied with that request. The working group plans to meet with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi at a “minister’s roundtable” discussion, which is set to take place Dec. 5.

“They appear to be at loggerheads on the issue of not just should prosecutorial guidelines be drafted but what the content of them should be, and it’s my hope that this document being made public will help break that logjam,” says McCann.

Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for MAG, said it would be inappropriate for the ministry to comment, as the Divisional Court’s decision is still within the appeal period.

Published in Law Times on Nov 28, 2016

Canada: HIV activists form national coalition to lobby for an end to the criminalisation of people living with HIV

HIV activists form Canadian coalition to fight criminalization

Aggravated sexual assault convictions for HIV non-disclosure are unjust, members say.

A group of HIV activists, lawyers, and service providers from across Canada have formed a national coalition to call for an end to the criminalization of people living with HIV.

The Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization, years in the making, will lobby nationally for people who have been charged for not disclosing their HIV status. Up until now, this work was only done locally and provincially, and mostly by lawyers rather than people most affected by the law.

“We have an amazing expert community of lawyers working on this issue,” says Alexander McClelland, a Montreal-based HIV criminalization researcher and member of the coalition. “But lawyers talk to other lawyers and haven’t been engaged more broadly. So hopefully we can shift things with the way the coalition is organized. We’re really centrally placing lived experience of people on our steering committee.”

Under Canadian law, a person living with HIV must disclose their status to anal and vaginal sexual partners or face the charge of aggravated sexual assault, which carries a maximum lifetime sentence and registry as a sex offender. This standard was most recently upheld in a 2012 Supreme Court of Canada ruling based on outdated science. The court ruled that to be considered safe enough not to disclose, HIV carriers must have very low viral load and wear condoms. Research now shows, however, that low viral load itself is enough to be nearly perfectly safe.

Coalition members met in October after many attended the HIV Is Not A Crime 2 Training Academy in Huntsville Alabama. Realizing the national level of organization in the United States led by people who have been charged and convicted, the attendees realized Canada needed something similar.

The coalition wants to limit prosecutions to intentional transmissions of HIV. Of over 180 known HIV prosecutions in Canada since the discovery of the virus as the cause of AIDS, there have been just two known intentional transmissions, according to Cecile Kazatchkine, senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The large percentage of unjust prosecutions in Canada, she says, has a chilling effect on people living with the virus.

“Many [HIV positive] people fear being prosecuted, of that happening to them at some point, like an old partner coming back to them and saying things that may not be true but it’s one word against another.”

The law is constructed to protect the sexual autonomy of women, Kazatchkine says, but it can often have the opposite effect on many HIV-positive women living in abusive relationships who fear their partners could use their status against them if they tried to leave.

“There’s a climate of fear and uncertainty that guides everything that we do and so it would be great to intervene in that and change the current situation,” adds McClelland, who lives with HIV.

Though still in its early stages, the coalition is concentrating on three areas: involving the lived experiences of those who live with the virus and have been criminally charged, lobbying provincial and federal politicians to change the Criminal Code and how it is enforced, and publicizing unjust prosecutions.

The group is also working on specific demands for the federal government, which writes the criminal law, and for provincial governments, which administer the law through the courts.

McClelland says coalition members have spoken to Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, which he finds promising, since no such meeting took place under the previous Conservative government.

“It’s also really, really hard to get the Criminal Code reformed,” he notes, “but if we can appeal to members of parliament that it’s being applied so unjustly, then potentially there’s an option for that.”

Published in DailyXtra on Nov 14, 2016

Australia: Australian experts publish statement urging courts to consider current scientific evidence in criminal cases involving alleged HIV transmission or exposure

A group of leading HIV experts are calling for “caution to be exercised” when considering criminal charges against people who recklessly spread the disease.

In a consensus statement published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Australian researchers and scientists — including Professor Sharon Lewin and Professor Andrew Grulich — argue that “criminal cases involving HIV transmission or exposure require that courts correctly comprehend the rapidly evolving science of HIV transmission and the impact of an HIV diagnosis”.

The statement cites scientific evidence that shows the risk of HIV transmission to be negligible if a person is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load. It also claims that HIV isn’t as serious a condition as it used to be: “Most people with HIV are able to commence simple treatment providing them a normal and healthy life expectancy, largely comparable with their HIV-negative peers.”

“Given the limited risk of HIV transmission per sexual act and the limited long-term harms experienced by most people recently diagnosed with HIV, appropriate care should be taken before prosecutions are pursued,” says the statement.

While acknowledging that cases of deliberate transmission of HIV are “extremely unusual”, the group urge authorities to change behaviours through counselling rather than the courts.

“Careful attention should be paid to the best scientific evidence on HIV risk and harms, with consideration given to alternatives to prosecution, including public health management.”

The statement has been welcome by HIV advocacy groups.

“It’s incredible to see these experts come together and make a bold statement regarding HIV and the law,” said Richard Keane, President of Living Positive Victoria.

“The impact of HIV criminalisation or even the threat of it is a dangerous form of stigma and we’re still feeling the ripple effect more than two decades later.”

There have been at least 38 Australian criminal prosecutions for HIV sexual transmission or exposure since 1991.

“You don’t have to be convicted or even prosecuted for HIV criminalisation to affect you,” said Keane.

“The HIV community lives with the threat that a complaint can be made against us and the stigma that criminal prosecutions amplify and perpetuate.”

Keane hoped the statement’s focus on utilising the public health system rather the criminal courts in dealing with behaviour change would lead to better outcomes on policy.

“Most people on treatment are able to achieve an ‘undetectable’ viral load which makes it highly likely that the person will remain healthy and pose a negligible risk of transmitting HIV,” Keane said.

“The evidence outlined in this statement shows that the per-act risk of HIV transmission from even the most risky sex is still low. The message should be to encourage individuals to take care of their health and eliminate barriers to accessing treatment rather than intimidation through the justice system.

“By focusing on what the studies and science is telling us about treatments, relative risk and harm, that’s how we reduce HIV transmission whilst protecting the rights and dignity of people living with HIV. HIV is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”

Additional reporting Positive Living.

Published in Gay News Network on Nov 6, 2016

Vietnam: Vietnam Lawyers Association (VLA) and Global Fund for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project to provide free legal aid to vulnerable groups in many areas, including civil and criminal issues

The Vietnam Lawyers Association (VLA) and Global Fund for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project will implement the project on providing free legal aid services to vulnerable groups in HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

The information was given by the VLA at a conference on connection and access to legal support services for vulnerable groups in HIV/AIDS prevention and control recently organized in Hanoi.

The project, supported by the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA), will be implemented in five localities, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city, Dong Nai, Quang Ninh and Thai Binh.

It aims to support and guarantee legitimate rights and interests of groups such as injection drug users, prostitutes, homosexuals and transgenders.

Their understanding of law and basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS is limited, leading to stigma and discrimination. Besides, these groups are not beneficiaries of free legal aid under the provisions of the law on legal aid. Therefore, it is essential to build the model of consultation and legal aid free of charge for these groups.

Speaking at the workshop, Doctor and Lawyer Trinh Thi Le Tram, Director of the centre for legal counselling and health policy for HIV/AIDS, said vulnerable people in HIV/AIDS prevention and control include: people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, injection drug users, prostitutes and homosexuals.

According to Ms. Tram, the number of customers calling the hotline 18001521, requiring counselling on HIV/AIDS and related legislation, continued to increase over the years. In 2009, there were more than 1,900 calls but in 2014, the figure rose to more than 3,000. However, these numbers are still very small compared to the total of more than 200,000 people living with HIV across the country today.

Demand for legal consulting and aid is there in many areas, such as labor, job, marriage and family, criminal and civil issues.

According to Ms. Tram, legal counselling and aid for people living with HIV at state’s centres for legal aid meet many difficulties and shortcomings, such as procedure, identification public issues, and centres are often located within the campus of government agencies with no separate living space.

In addition, interdisciplinary agencies and VLAs of 63 localities nationwide should have activities to consult and support legislation for local people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

In particular, the national target program on HIV/AIDS prevention and control every year should structure the budget for the legal consultancy and assistance for people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS