The Government of Canada has long promised law reform in this country. Why are we still waiting?

For immediate release

The following can be attributed to the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization

Wednesday, February 28, 2024 — Today marks the third annual HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day, a day to raise awareness about HIV criminalization — in Canada and around the world — and elevate the voices of people living with HIV, including those who have been criminalized based on their HIV status.

“We welcome this opportunity to publicly consider the unthinkable injustice that persists in Canada, where people living with HIV continue to be singled out for criminal prosecutions, convictions, and imprisonment for allegedly not disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners in otherwise consensual sexual encounters,” says Alexander McClelland, who is living with HIV and is the Chair of the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization (CCRHC) Steering Committee.  But members of the CCRHC and the community are incredibly discouraged by the lack of political leadership that enables the status quo to continue. “People living with HIV in this country deserve more than unfulfilled promises and never-ending delays,” notes Muluba Habanyama, who is living with HIV and a member of the CCRHC Steering Committee.

Chad Clarke, a survivor of HIV criminalization in Canada and member of the CCRHC Steering Committee, is also calling for immediate change: “Today, we call on the Government of Canada and Minister of Justice Arif Virani to do more to prove that they care about this critical issue and that they are committed to bringing about long overdue change, including law reform that reflects the incredible groundwork already laid by the community.” You can read the full CCRHC Community Consensus Statement on HIV Criminalization here.

It has been more than a year since federal consultations on HIV criminalization closed, and almost two years since the Government of Canada announced its intention to pursue legislative changes at the 2022 International AIDS Conference in Montreal. It has been almost five years since a federal Standing Committee in the House of Commons released a damning report on HIV criminalization in Canada, and more than seven years since the previous Minister of Justice expressed her concern about the “over-criminalization of people living with HIV in Canada.”

“People living with HIV have been living under the heavy threat of criminalization for decades. We cannot continue to wait for change, and for the ‘justice’ system to catch up with science and human rights. We need the Government of Canada to act now, alongside a community that is experiencing harms daily” says Colin Johnson, who is living with HIV and a member of the CCRHC Steering Committee.

“The CCRHC has long advocated for reforms to Canada’s HIV criminalization laws, and progress has been painfully — and harmfully — slow. But it is not all bad news as today, we are pleased to announce that The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has recognized the CCRHC and its commitment to change in Canada with a grant to support our work and the people living with HIV who share their experience of criminalization at great personal cost” says Shakir Rahim, a lawyer who is also a member of the CCRHC Steering Committee.

The eyes of the world are on Canada as we await meaningful change for people who continue to suffer under punitive and unscientific laws. Members of CCRHC hope that today will mark a turning point towards positive, meaningful, and swift legal reform in this country.

The CCRHC is honoured to name our inaugural HIV is Not A Crime Leadership Award 2024 to HIV criminalization survivor Chad Clarke.

This award recognizes CCRHC members who are living with HIV and whose advocacy through their lived experience has advanced the work of the Coalition. It is made possible through the generous grant made by The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Chad Clarke has been living with HIV for more than 15 years. His personal experience of prosecution and imprisonment has transformed him into a passionate leader and activist working against the discriminatory criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. Chad has widely shared his story of criminalization in the media and as a public speaker, including sharing the harsh experiences he faced while incarcerated and the ongoing harms he faces from the sex offender registry. His voice has been a spark to light a fire under many to become involved in the movement for change. For years, Chad has been actively involved in the HIV response and has sat on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Positive People Network and the Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN). In 2019, he was an invited expert witness — and the only criminalized person invited to speak — to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their study on the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. He is a current member of the Steering Committee of the CCRHC.


About the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization

The Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization is a national coalition of people living with HIV, community organizations, lawyers, researchers, and others formed in October 2016. It includes a steering committee on which a majority of members are people living with HIV.

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Megan Long, Communications Specialist
HIV Legal Network