New brochure explains Canadian law on sex and HIV disclosure

HIV-and-the-law-brochure-cover-443x1024When it comes to HIV disclosure, the law is complicated.

In 2012, the Canadian Supreme Court issued a regressive ruling that made the law stricter for people living with HIV, in opposition to scientific assessments of risk and medical advancements that reduce the likelihood of transmission.

Legally, people living with HIV must use a condom and have a low viral load if they want to avoid having to disclose. If they don’t do both, they’re supposed to tell prospective partners about their HIV+ status.

The law isn’t consistent with science and medicine, and it also doesn’t accord with the realities of everyday life and the way people approach sex. This makes it confusing and difficult to understand, even for those with interest and experience in legal matters.

At Positive Women’s Network, we’ve found explaining the law to be a significant challenge. From most angles, it doesn’t make sense, and so we end up fielding a lot of “why” questions to which there are no satisfactory answers. In these discussions, it becomes clear that stigma and misinformation, rather than science and evidence, played the leading role in the court’s decision.

This is one of the reasons we developed a new brochure on HIV non-disclosure law in Canada. We wanted to have a resource that breaks down the law in simple, straightforward language.

We also wanted to provide ideas for how people living with HIV can protect themselves from the law. Spurred by requests from women looking for disclosure agreements that they could have partners sign before having sex, we looked to a sample statement made by the Sero Project. The organization, which is based in the United States, generously agreed to allow us to base our brochure on their material.

The brochure is intended to speak directly to people living with HIV. The point is to provide information, not tell them what to do. The section on how people living with HIV can protect themselves from the law is provided as a list of ideas—not requirements, standards, or expectations.

We understand that for many people, these suggestions aren’t realistic. Few are in a position to have a partner fill out a form before sex, for example. We also know that gender inequality makes women particularly vulnerable when it comes to criminalization. Power imbalances and violence in relationships mean many women do not have the power to follow the strategies outlined in the brochure. In fact, a woman may be better off disregarding them, especially with an abusive partner, in order to keep herself and her family safe.

Each woman must decide for herself how best to protect her family and her own life.

Positive Women’s Network would like to thank the Sero Project for sharing its work. We also thank Micheal Vonn at the BC Civil Liberties Association and Alison Symington and Cécile Kazatchkine at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network for providing insightful feedback during the development of the brochure. Much appreciation goes to CATIE for translating the resource into French and printing it for distribution across the country. You can order the brochure in English and French through the CATIE website.