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Recent Supreme Court ruling on HIV disclosure

On Oct 5, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada updated a 1998 ruling that made it a criminal offense not to inform sex partners when there was a significant chance of passing on HIV.

Under that law, people who had HIV and did not tell partners could be charged with aggravated sexual assault, with a maximum penalty of life in jail.

The new ruling states that people with a low viral load and who use condoms during sexual intercourse do not need to tell their partners that they have HIV. If those conditions are not met, then people with HIV still have to tell their partners of their status.

The court ruling was based on the evidence that with antiretroviral medication, there is a negligible possibility of passing on HIV when the viral load is low or undetectable, and condoms are used.

From a public health perspective, there’s no evidence that criminal charges for not disclosing one’s HIV status have an effect on reducing the spread of HIV. In fact, these cases may have the opposite effect by making people afraid of the consequences of getting an HIV test, and increasing the stigma associated with HIV in Canada. 

For a perspective on the Supreme Court ruling, check out an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, written by Dr. Mark Tyndall, Professor of Medicine and Head of Infectious Diseases at the University of Ottawa.

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