World AIDS Day: Let’s stop crim­i­nal­iz­ing HIV sta­tus

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - By Roberta K. Tim­o­thy As­sis­tant Lec­turer Global Health, Ethics and Hu­man Rights School of Health, York Univer­sity, Canada

In Canada, peo­ple liv­ing with HIV can be charged with not dis­clos­ing their HIV sta­tus to their sex­ual part­ners. Since 2004, there has been a marked in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple who have faced charges re­lated to HIV nondis­clo­surein a 1998 land­mark case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a per­son who does not dis­close their HIV sta­tus and expose other peo­ple to a “sig­nif­i­cant risk” of HIV trans­mis­sion, could be found guilty of ag­gra­vated as­sault (the Cuer­rier de­ci­sion).

In Oc­to­ber 2012, a Supreme Court of Canada rul­ing (the Mabior de­ci­sion) in­ten­si­fied the im­pact of crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV non-dis­clo­sure.

Clato Mabior was charged with nine counts of sex­ual as­sault for HIV non-dis­clo­sure for hav­ing un­pro­tected sex (lim­ited con­dom use) with fe­male iden­ti­fied com­plainants who did not con­tract HIV and to whom he did not dis­close his HIV sta­tus.

Mabior was liv­ing with a low vi­ral load. The Supreme Court de­ter­mined that low vi­ral load with no con­dom use meets the test for “a re­al­is­tic pos­si­bil­ity of trans­mis­sion of HIV.”

This rul­ing im­pacted peo­ple liv­ing with HIV as the jus­tice sys­tem uti­lized a puni­tive ap­proach caus­ing peo­ple to live in fear and men­tal an­guish. It also led to a de­crease in rates of HIV test­ing and other health ser­vices.

How­ever, in a se­vere com­pli­ca­tion of the case, one of the com­plainants was a 12-year-old girl. Most of the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion ad­vo­cates failed to ad­dress this sep­a­rate crit­i­cal fac­tor of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of chil­dren and women. The age of con­sent in Canada for sex­ual ac­tiv­ity is 16 years old.

In­stead of treat­ing this as a unique case, the main­stream me­dia nar­ra­tive fur­ther stig­ma­tized peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and char­ac­ter­ized Black men as sex­ual preda­tors. (Mabior is a Black Su­danese im­mi­grant.)

Peo­ple liv­ing with HIV are not syn­ony­mous with sex­ual vi­o­lence, as this case and the le­gal crim­i­nal­iza­tion of non-dis­clo­sure sug­gests.

The cur­rent leg­is­la­tion in­creases stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and spreads mis­in­for­ma­tion. Given the pre­ex­ist­ing crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Black peo­ple in Canada — in­clud­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary racial pro­fil­ing and in­car­cer­a­tion — the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Black peo­ple liv­ing with HIV is not sur­pris­ing.

The stigma of HIV + racism

Black peo­ple rep­re­sent ap­prox­i­mately 2.5 per cent of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion and 13.6 per cent of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV. Data shows that among non-dis­clo­sure cases, where the race of the de­fen­dant is known, only 36 per cent are Black, while 50 per cent are white. Yet this study of me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tion found that since 1989, 62 per cent of all news­pa­per ar­ti­cles about HIV non-dis­clo­sure cases have fo­cused on Black de­fen­dants.

Graf­fiti with cap­i­tal let­ters: HIV. CC BY

More­over, since 2012 the ma­jor­ity of high pro­file cases of per­sons con­victed un­der HIV crim­i­nal­iza­tion leg­is­la­tion in Canada were African/black men.

There is a di­rect cor­re­la­tion between racism and the health of Black com­mu­ni­ties. Yet the ma­jor­ity of HIV re­search does not men­tion the “R” word (racism), or the im­pli­ca­tions of colo­nial­ism and other forms of vi­o­lence in the lives of Black peo­ple liv­ing with HIV/AIDS.

The Black Coali­tion for AIDS Pre­ven­tion (Black CAP) and Africans in Part­ner­ship Against AIDS (APAA) are two AIDS or­ga­ni­za­tions sup­port­ing African/black/caribbean peo­ples and com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing with HIV — by link­ing re­sis­tance, racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, anti-im­mi­gra­tion and other forms of in­ter­sec­tional vi­o­lence as part of their ser­vice and re­search agen­das to dis­man­tle HIV stigma.

More re­search needed

In some good news, last year on World’s AIDS Day, both the Cana­dian fed­eral and On­tario pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments re­leased a state­ment to ad­dress what they call the over-crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV non-dis­clo­sure. They said sci­ence­based knowl­edge along with ad­vance­ments in med­i­cal treat­ment showed that in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing with HIV with a sup­pressed vi­ral load over six months do not present a risk of spread­ing the virus. The On­tario gov­ern­ment said Crown at­tor­neys will no longer pros­e­cute such cases.

How will this new lim­i­ta­tion im­pact African/black com­mu­nity mem­bers who have been charged or are be­ing charged with HIV non-dis­clo­sure? It re­mains to be seen. Will it help to de­crease the stigma of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV?

Since the per­spec­tives of Black women and men liv­ing with HIV on the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV dis­clo­sure have not been ex­ten­sively ex­am­ined in Canada, there has been an ef­fec­tive si­lenc­ing of their voices, ex­pe­ri­ences and knowl­edge.

A flurry of red hearts in recog­ni­tion of World AIDS Day. In­vestor Place

My re­search hopes to fill this gap by ex­plor­ing the im­pact of crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV pos­i­tive Black peo­ple in Greater Toronto Area. I use in­ter­views and art­based meth­ods. I have spo­ken with men­tal health prac­ti­tion­ers and lawyers and judges work­ing on the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV.

My pre­lim­i­nary re­search find­ings in­di­cate that those liv­ing with HIV have

Tex­pe­ri­enced in­creased sur­veil­lance and crim­i­nal­iza­tion af­ter the Supreme Court de­ci­sions. This in­creased sur­veil­lance has made the HIV stigma worse and in­creased per­cep­tions of anti-black racism — lead­ing to health vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and in­se­cu­ri­ties, in­clud­ing men­tal and phys­i­cal health im­pacts. Hous­ing and em­ploy­ment are sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the vi­o­lence of crim­i­nal­iza­tion of HIV non dis­clo­sure im­pacts women liv­ing with HIV in unique ways, in­creas­ing vi­o­lence and vul­ner­a­bil­ity in their lives.

What I also ob­served is the con­tin­ued mo­bi­liza­tion and re­sis­tance in African Di­as­poric com­mu­ni­ties.

As a health re­searcher, health prac­ti­tioner and com­mu­nity ac­tivist who has fam­ily and loved ones im­pacted by HIV, World’s AIDS Day on Dec. 1 brings mixed emo­tions. Now in its 30th year, ac­tivists re­mem­ber who we have lost and unite for the con­tin­ued fight to erad­i­cate HIV/AIDS. It is a day to de­mand bet­ter health treat­ment and re­sources for all those liv­ing with HIV.

Roberta K. Tim­o­thy does not work for, con­sult, own shares in or re­ceive fund­ing from any com­pany or or­gan­i­sa­tion that would ben­e­fit from this ar­ti­cle, and has dis­closed no rel­e­vant af­fil­i­a­tions beyond their aca­demic ap­point­ment. he Que­bec English School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion (QESBA) is very sur­prised to hear that Jean-françois Roberge is con­sult­ing the English com­mu­nity on the abo­li­tion of school boards.

In an in­ter­view this morn­ing with Paul Ar­cand of 98.5 FM the Min­ster of Ed­u­ca­tion de­clared hav­ing had “re­as­sur­ing” dis­cus­sions with the English com­mu­nity on the abo­li­tion of school boards in favour of “ser­vice cen­tres”

“The QESBA re­cently hosted a large num­ber of English-speak­ing ed­u­ca­tional stake­hold­ers and com­mu­nity groups. Not one of these groups has been con­sulted nor are they in favour of abol­ish­ing school boards. We are dumb­founded that this Min­is­ter would de­clare that we are col­lec­tively in favour of abol­ish­ing the only in­sti­tu­tions that be­long to our com­mu­nity,” said QESBA Pres­i­dent Dan Lamoureux

The QESBA ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion to the Min­is­ter to ad­dress del­e­gates this com­ing week­end dur­ing a Pro­fes­sional De­vel­op­ment Ses­sion, where demo­crat­i­cally elected com­mis­sion­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from com­mu­nity groups will be in at­ten­dance. He is the first Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion to de­cline the in­vi­ta­tion to this event that we hold ev­ery fall. De­spite a re­quest made a month ago, we are also dis­ap­pointed that the Min­is­ter has not yet had time to meet with the QESBA.

“The sug­ges­tion by the Min­is­ter that he is able to re­as­sure un­named peo­ple or groups in the English-speak­ing com­mu­nity when he hasn’t yet met with ma­jor stake­hold­ers is pro­foundly dis­turb­ing. Our English-speak­ing mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity de­serves bet­ter,” con­cluded the Pres­i­dent.

QESBA is the voice of English pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in Québec and rep­re­sents 100,000 stu­dents in 340 el­e­men­tary, high schools, and adult and vo­ca­tional cen­tres across Que­bec.


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