YouthCO stands against HIV non-disclosure

Thank you,, for publishing this article online here.

When getting sexy with our partner(s), we all have an opportunity to talk about sexual health. Yet in practice, many of us are reluctant to start a conversation, bring up condoms, or ask about HIV and STIs. For those of us who are HIV-positive, not having one of these conversations means we may face charges of aggravated sexual assault. In fact, last month, we have seen two Toronto-area people living with HIV charged with aggravated sexual assault, and a call for their sexual partners to come forward to the police. One of the people facing charges is 20 years old.

To us at YouthCO, this just does not make sense.

1998 was the first time the Supreme Court of Canada found a person living with HIV guilty for not sharing their HIV status with a sexual partner. At the time, organizations including the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network provided evidence to the Supreme Court that the criminal law would neither stop HIV from being passed nor would it support people living with HIV.

"It does not make sense to us that only one person – the person living with HIV – should face criminal punishment in a situation when no one brought up HIV before sex."

Another case of what we now know as HIV non-disclosure made its way to the Supreme Court in 2012. Despite extensive advocacy, the court decided those of us living with HIV who are either a) having penetrative sex without a condom or b) using a condom, and have more than 1,500 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood (also referred to as “viral load”) have a legal obligation to disclose our HIV status. These decisions have unfortunately made Canada a world leader (and not in a good way) when it comes to prosecuting HIV-positive people. 

YouthCO, like many organizations, has long opposed laws that criminalize the sex lives of people living with HIV. It does not make sense to us that only one person – the person living with HIV – should face criminal punishment in a situation when no one brought up HIV before sex. The law also does not make sense to us because we know that most people living with HIV go to significant lengths to prevent passing HIV. As well, it is generally accepted that those who maintain an undetectable viral load are incapable of transmitting the virus.


We also oppose the HIV non-disclosure law because it does nothing to prevent new cases of HIV. The law further marginalizes oppressed groups, including women experiencing violence, indigenous women, people who have immigrated to Canada, and people of colour. The reasons to oppose this law do not end here: we've got a full position paper and a short video that outline more reasons we oppose this law.

As an alternative to this law, YouthCO works to build communities that share responsibility for sexual health. To do so, our members and staff create opportunities for youth to get more comfortable talking with sex partners about HIV and condom use, asking questions of their health care providers, and learning about how HIV is and is not passed. In this work, we also affirm that those of us who are HIV-positive have the right to healthy and satisfying sex lives.

As young leaders, we refuse to accept that the current criminal law is the way it has to be. Our by-youth, for-youth programs help to decriminalize HIV non-disclosure by sharing facts and challenging stigma. Please join us in sharing the truth in our communities and with our legal system: HIV is not a crime! 

YouthCO's office is located on the unceded traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Tsleil-Waututh people. Our programs take place on unceded, ancestral, and traditional territories of many Indigenous nations across what is now called BC.

YouthCO believes that all youth have the right to accessible and affirming information about our health. We also know each of us has a unique relationship to our bodies, sex, sexuality, substance use, and harm reduction. For many of us, the words other people use for our bodies and their functions are not the words we use for ourselves. Throughout our website, YouthCO uses words for bodies and sex that we know will not reflect the full diversity of our communities. We have tried to, where possible, be as expansive with our language as we know how to while being as specific as possible. As youth leading the HIV movement, we too are learning about the best words for our experiences and do not do this perfectly. We invite any feedback about the language used on our website to help us move forward in the best ways for all youth in our communities!