Landmark resolution marks progress for people living with HIV in prison

A recent landmark outcome from  a legal case — in which the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network intervened, together with the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) and Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN) — has secured a number of positive steps for people living with HIV in prison.

In June 2016, the parties to an application before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario resolved the matter, in which the applicant stated that he had experienced stigma and discrimination in a provincial correctional institution because of his HIV status. While in prison, the applicant spent approximately three months in solitary confinement after a handful of prisoners complained to correctional officers that they didn’t want him in their unit because he was HIV-positive. During that time, his requests for medical attention and information on his situation went unanswered.

In Canada and around the world, HIV rates are significantly higher among people in prison than in the general population. Segregating prisoners on the basis of their HIV status poses numerous harms to those prisoners: it can create or exacerbate mental health issues, reinforces HIV-related stigma, and increases the risk of treatment interruptions or delays, HIV-related and otherwise.  It also amounts to discrimination on the basis of disability, violating Ontario’s Human Rights Code and international human rights norms.  As set out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in its Policy on HIV/AIDS-related discrimination, people living with HIV are protected from HIV-related discrimination and harassment and are entitled to the maximum degree of privacy and confidentiality with respect to their status, because it is recognized as a disability under the Human Rights Code. The International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights specify that segregation and denial of access to prison facilities and privileges should be prohibited for prisoners living with HIV, and segregation because of HIV status violates the principle of non-discrimination and the right to liberty of the person.

The Legal Network, HALCO and PASAN intervened to challenge this harmful practice. The resolution of the matter requires the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to implement several systemic deliverables. These are

  • to prominently display notices in all provincial correctional institutions on the rights of people living with HIV or AIDS in prison;
  • to train correctional staff on issues relating to people living with HIV or AIDS in prison; and
  • to allow voluntary workshops for prisoners in the Toronto South Detention Centre (the “TSDC”) on the myths and realities of HIV and AIDS.

The intervenors have been tasked with drafting the proposed notices, as well as providing input on the correctional staff training, and PASAN will conduct the workshops for prisoners in the TSDC. The outcome of this case and the agreed-upon systemic deliverables represent a significant step forward in acknowledging the rights of people living with HIV in Ontario’s prisons, and we hope will encourage policies and practices that protect and promote the human rights of people living with HIV in correctional institutions across the country.