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Manitoba introduces forced HIV testing bill

Legislation violates human rights, says group

Credit: Brent Creelman photo

Manitoba’s forced HIV testing legislation is “flawed” and “ill-conceived” charges the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The bill would allow paramedics and firefighters to apply for a testing order if they have come into contact with bodily fluid of another person while on the job. Health Minister Theresa Oswald, introduced the bill in the Manitoban legislature Apr 16.

Oswald touted the bill as providing emergency workers with “peace of mind” when responding to an incident. Yet, the risk of contracting an infection such as HIV from an occupational exposure is extremely low, says the Legal Network.

In fact, the group says that there has been only one confirmed case of occupational HIV infection in Canada since the early 1980s.

“Forcing someone to undergo blood tests, and then to disclose the results of those tests, is a serious violation of their human rights,” says the Legal Network’s executive director Richard Elliott.

The group notes that forced testing violates a person’s right to privacy, because the results are revealed to others without consent. The process of forced testing could involve public court hearings and there is no way to stop the exposed person from telling others about the results of the test.

Still, at least four provinces now have laws on forced HIV testing: Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. Manitoban legislators have introduced private members’ bills since 2006 that have sought to get forced testing in the province. Those failed, but the difference now is that the government has brought forward this legislation.

The Legal Network says alternatives should be examined.

“To provide real peace of mind, the Ministry of Health should be taking measures to protect the confidentiality of all test results, provide accurate information and protective equipment to emergency responders and ensure access to voluntary testing and treatment to everyone in the province who needs it,” says Elliott.