On­tario’s rul­ing on HIV non-dis­clo­sure called the right step

Ad­vo­cates liv­ing with dis­ease give ku­dos to gov­ern­ment but also raise con­cerns

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - The Cana­dian Press

A move by the On­tario gov­ern­ment to limit the pros­e­cu­tion of HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple who don't dis­close their sta­tus to sex­ual part­ners is be­ing called a step in the right di­rec­tion by those af­fected, but they say there's much more progress to be made.

The gov­ern­ment an­nounced late last week that peo­ple with low vi­ral loads who don't have a re­al­is­tic chance of trans­mit­ting the dis­ease can't be charged with a crime if they don't dis­close their med­i­cal sta­tus to a sex­ual part­ner.

Pre­vi­ously, non-dis­clo­sure could lead to an ag­gra­vated sex­ual as­sault charge that landed con­victed peo­ple on a sex of­fender list.

On­tario made the changes af­ter stud­ies showed the risk of trans­mis­sion is neg­li­gi­ble if peo­ple are be­ing treated for the dis­ease or if ap­pro­pri­ate pre­cau­tions are taken.

Chad Clarke, 46, who served 39 months in prison for non-dis­clo­sure, said he cried when the an­nounce­ment was made and said progress was be­ing made to end what com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates called the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV.

“I feel great be­cause they're lis­ten­ing to our voices,” said Clarke. “I look for­ward to see where we go … they just proved that you have them will­ing to sit down, and maybe Canada will sign on to this.”

How­ever, ad­vo­cates in the com­mu­nity say there are down­sides to the rul­ing as well.

Jeff Potts, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the sup­port and ad­vo­cacy group Cana­dian Pos­i­tive Peo­ple Net­work, said that de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing only peo­ple with low vi­ral loads means the com­mu­nity will be di­vided be­tween peo­ple who are for­tu­nate enough to get the med­i­cal treat­ment they need, and marginal­ized peo­ple who are not.

“At the end of the day, laws that crim­i­nal­ize peo­ple liv­ing with HIV for any rea­son, un­less it can be proven there was in­ten­tional harm, are un­just,” said Potts, who has been HIV-pos­i­tive for three decades. “They don't make sense, they don't keep up with the sci­ence, it does noth­ing more than per­pet­u­ate stigma and fur­ther marginal­ize peo­ple who live with HIV.”

He said that some peo­ple will see this as a wrong step be­cause of that di­vi­sion, but ac­knowl­edged it's im­por­tant that the gov­ern­ment has shown it un­der­stands there's a con­ver­sa­tion that needs to hap­pen.

The gov­ern­ment said Sun­day it had no com­ment about any plans to fur­ther limit pros­e­cu­tion of HIV­pos­i­tive peo­ple for non-dis­clo­sure.

Potts and Clarke spoke of the stigma that came with be­ing HIV­pos­i­tive and said that the fear of pros­e­cu­tion was “un­bear­able.”

Clarke, who was orig­i­nally sen­tenced to four years in prison, says his daugh­ter still won't let him speak to his grand­son, and said he still isn't on speak­ing terms with his par­ents. He used to feel at home in Toronto's Church and Welles­ley neigh­bour­hood, where there is a strong LGBTQ com­mu­nity, but has since moved to a small ru­ral com­mu­nity be­cause the area brings back too many bad mem­o­ries

He said the HIV com­mu­nity has to be mind­ful of how they carry on the fight and that they must fo­cus on ed­u­cat­ing Cana­di­ans.

“If we don't ed­u­cate and show them the love of this com­mu­nity, they're not go­ing to hold that door open for us no more,” said Clarke.


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