Oct 7, 2012 / 1:14 pm
The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision to absolve HIV carriers of the legal obligation to inform sex partners about their condition is being met with approval by activists who argue the existing law was too harsh and unfair.
The court ruled 14 years ago that people with HIV must inform their sex partners of their condition, or face a charge of aggravated sexual assault, which carries a maximum life sentence.
"It's a huge victory for the HIV movement in that it's even been considered to be changed," says Bob Hughes, Executive Director of the ASK Wellness Centre in Kamloops.
"The decision is not entirely what I hoped for, which is a recognition that everyone has a responsibility for their own, in this case, sexual behaviour."
In a major 9-0 ruling Friday, the high court specified that a person with a low level of the virus, and if they wear a condom, is no longer subject their 1998 ruling which made it a crime for people with extremely low levels of HIV to withhold their condition from their sex partners.
The court said it was reflecting the medical advances in treating the virus that causes AIDS since it first ruled on the issue and left open the possibility of adapting to future changes in medicine.
"It speaks to the advances in medicine that has resulted in incredible anti-retro viral medications that reduce a person's transmittability of the virus to the point that it's undetectable," says Hughes.
Hughes also pointed out that there are a number of other serious sexually transmitted diseases and people suffering from those conditions are not subject to the same requirements.
"To make it a criminal offence for somebody to not do that, where you can end up being put in jail is a real draconian statement. The reality is, if you're having sex with somebody and you don't know their background, put on a condom."
Activists wanted the decision struck down, but argued that, in the alternative, the court should at least refine that ruling to reflect new medical advances.
"It's an incremental change that recognizes people have a responsibility to look after themselves and that people with HIV are not to be scorned and seen as criminals by deciding to have sex," says Hughes
"There is still a great deal of historical baggage with HIV that is not grounded in reality. Things have changed, but there's pockets where people are still terrified by the virus, (and) still believe that if you have HIV you should be scorned and exiled."
The ruling is considered a partial victory for HIV/AIDS activists who have argued that the 1998 ruling sowed confusion and was applied unevenly.
"This is a reflection that, in Canada, there's a change in how people perceive HIV and it's a welcome decision for the HIV movement," added Hughes.
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