Our Highest Court’s Position On HIV Disclosure Is Steeped In Stigma

Canada’s reputation as a caring and progressive society has been tarnished by how the nation’s highest court has stigmatized people living with HIV. And, as recent court battles show, the supreme court rulings aren’t just charged and stigmatizing, they are also on shaky legal ground.

During an impassioned lecture at the University of Calgary recently, celebrated human rights advocate and HIV activist Justice Edwin Cameron, of South Africa’s highest court, described the treatment of those living with HIV at the hands of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) as a “uniquely Canadian monstrosity.”

“Worldwide, despite antiretroviral treatment, about one million people die of AIDS annually. Many of them, roughly but accurately expressed, are dying of stigma,” said Cameron, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1986. His struggle with the virus, and his advocacy work, formed part of his best-selling memoir, Witness To AIDS.

Stigma, he argued, is “a social brand of judgment, an imprint of contempt and ostracism” that perpetuates silence and shame, and even fear of diagnosis, meaning too many people are not accessing the treatment that can restore their health.

The Supreme Court of Canada, charged Cameron, has served to perpetuate that fear with a set of decisions that imposed a legal duty on those living with HIV to disclose their status to partners even if they are receiving antiretroviral treatment, which reduces the virus to virtually undetectable levels.

“Canada has a dubious distinction. After the United States and Russia and eastern European countries,” said Cameron. “It has prosecuted more cases, it has put more people in prison for simple non-disclosure of HIV infection, than any other country. It lags behind only a handful of jurisdictions in absolute numbers of convictions.”

Prosecution is effective in deterring people from getting tested, while giving the public a false sense of security.

And all the prosecution, which results from non-disclosure being treated in Canada as a criminal offence, is doing more harm than good, according to the Community, AIDS, Treatment, Information Exchange (CATIE), a Canadian group that promotes good practices for treatment and prevention programs for those living with HIV and hepatitis C.

CATIE points out there is zero evidence to show criminal penalties deter participation in behaviours that present risk of transmission. But prosecution is effective in deterring people from getting tested, while giving the public a false sense of security that criminal prosecutions will somehow protect them, Cameron pointed out. CATIE has recorded

Source:: The Huffington Post – Canada Travel


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