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Leading minds talk of the reality of global and Canadian HIV criminalization laws

The law, research and the need to move forward

The HIV Forum hosted by the Aids Committee of Ottawa drew a large crowd at the Jock Turcot auditorium at the University of Ottawa on Sept 29.

The two-hour event included presentations from Richard Elliot, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, local HIV activist David Hoe, Eric Mykhalovskiy, associate professor in the department of sociology at York University and Edwin Bernard, writer and consultant for UK and international HIV organizations.

The four panellists each took a different approach to HIV criminalization laws in Canada and worldwide.

Elliot spoke on the global creep of criminalization laws, of past and current cases in Canada, UN guidelines and the need for Canada to establish prosecutorial guidelines for HIV-nondisclosure cases.

David Hoe spoke on his own experiences of being a young gay man 20 years ago. He spoke of fear and the parallels between his immigrating to Canada as a gay man and having to lie about his sexuality, and the same fear that HIV-positive people feel now when coming to terms with having to disclose their HIV status.

Eric Mykhalovskiy talked about his research project, methodology and a synopsis of the findings. The results indicated that there was a general inclination to be vague about the definition of significant risk, a concern that disclosure does not protect people living with HIV from criminal charges and the chilling effect — the increasing disinclination of people disclosing because of the vagueness of the law.

The last speaker, Edwin Bernard, talked primarily about the criminalization guidelines adopted by England and Wales as well as existing global databases of HIV criminalization laws, an AIDS map and brief introductions to other EU countries with proactive approaches to the criminalization of HIV.

Elliot, Mykhalovskiy and Bernard also spoke at an HIV forum held in Toronto on Sept 30.