In May of 2015, I gave a keynote presentation on my research to the annual Healthy Sexuality and Harm Reduction Conference for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Here is the abstract for the presentation:
Globally, Canada is considered a ‘hot-spot’ for criminalizing the non-disclosure and exposure of HIV. With over 155 prosecutions and more cases on the rise, Canada is known for imposing harsh and punitive penalties against people living with HIV who do not tell sex partners their HIV status, or potentially expose others to infection. A majority of those are charged with aggravated sexual assault, one of the most severe charges in the Criminal Code. Social scientists have documented that the law related to HIV non-disclosure and exposure has been applied asymmetrically, leading to a sense of uncertainty among people living with HIV. Criminal cases related to HIV non- disclosure in Canada are strongly patterned by gender, race, and sexual orientation. But how did we get here? Why is Canada so exceptional in how the criminal justice system has responded to HIV? If we look back throughout history, we can see that in the early days of the Canadian settler-colonial state those infected with diseases of “vice” such as syphilis and gonorrhea were subject to similar legal measures and labeled social outcasts worthy of incarceration. Through a historical examination of a number of cases from the past and present, this presentation will examine the Canadian context of criminalization of HIV and other STIs. We will examine the role of public health in supporting or impeding this increasing practice of criminalizing diseases that are sexually transmitted. We will discuss strategies to end stigma, discrimination and start to work towards the decriminalization of HIV exposure and non-disclosure and the decarceration of people living with HIV.