Ontario Will No Longer Prosecute HIV Non-Disclosure Cases

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about criminal charges being laid against individuals living with HIV who fail to disclose their health status prior to engaging in sexual relations. Given the advancements in science and medicine in terms of treatment of the disease, we are beginning to see that changes are necessary to the criminal justice system.

ONTARIO GOVERNMENT’S ANNOUNCEMENT

On World AIDS Day (December 1, 2017), Ontario Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, and Health Minister, Eric Hoskins, announced that Crown attorneys in Ontario will no longer prosecute cases of HIV-positive individuals who do not disclose their health status to their sexual partner if they have a suppressed viral load for six months.

World AIDS Day is recognized as a time to consider the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on Canadians and thank those dedicated to preventing the disease and caring for and treating those that the disease has impacted.

Over the years there have been remarkable medical advances and HIV treatment has slowed disease progression so that many HIV-positive individuals can now consider the disease as a chronic, manageable condition. The criminal justice system must now reflect the current reality of this disease.

HIV TRANSMISSION RISKS

Studies have found that sexual activity, whether using a condom or not, with an HIV- positive individual who is receiving prescribed treatment and has maintained a suppressed viral load poses a negligible risk of transmission.

Viral load refers to the amount of HIV virus in a person’s blood. Viral suppression is defined as suppressing or reducing the function and replication of a virus. Reaching viral suppression means that the amount of HIV in an individual is very low. Viral suppression can help HIV positive individuals live healthier and longer lives and can reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to another person.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM RESPONSES TO HIV NON-DISCLOSURE CASES

The Supreme Court of Canada in the 2012 R. v. Mabior decision established that HIV-positive individuals have a duty to disclose their HIV status prior to sexual activity that poses a “realistic possibility of transmission”. The Court convicted Mabior on three counts because, although he had a low viral load when he had intercourse with three sexual partners, he did not use a condom. The Court found that Mabior met the test for “a realistic possibility of transmission of HIV” and therefore was convicted. At the time, the law was clear that HIV-positive individuals must disclose their status before engaging in sexual activity that poses a realistic possibility of transmission of HIV in order to avoid criminal liability.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada in the R. v. Mabior decision also recognized that scientific and medical advances regarding HIV/AIDS would progress over time and allowed for the law to evolve in the future as well.

Having reviewed all of the updated medical and scientific evidence, the Ontario government has decided that the criminal law should not apply to individuals living with HIV who have engaged in sexual activity without disclosing their status as long as they have maintained a suppressed viral load as the “realistic possibility of transmission test” is not met in these circumstances. An individual living with HIV who complies with their treatment is viewed as an individual who is acting responsibly.

In general, it is recommended by Canada’s Department of Justice that because the realistic possibility of transmission test is likely not met, the criminal law should not apply to:

  • Individuals living with HIV who are in treatment;
  • Individuals living with HIV who are not in treatment, but use condoms;
  • Individuals living with HIV who only engage in oral sex (unless other risk factors are present and the individual living with HIV is aware of those risks).

We will continue to follow any developments in the provincial and federal review of criminalization of HIV non-disclosure and will blog about updates as they become available.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer 24-hour phone service, 7 days a week for your convenience.