Law reform has long been promised; the time for change is now

Thursday, November 30, 2023 – Toronto – Tomorrow, World AIDS Day, marks nearly a year that people living with HIV in Canada have been waiting for the Government of Canada to take decisive action following national, government-led consultations on reforming the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. Nearly 1000 submissions were received in these consultations and the takeaway from people living with HIV and their allies was clear: the status quo is unacceptable. We must enact law reform in this country.

Currently, people living with HIV in Canada continue to be singled out for criminal prosecutions, convictions, and imprisonment for allegedly not disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners in consensual sexual encounters. The charge most often used is aggravated sexual assault, one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code. With more than 220 prosecutions for alleged HIV non-disclosure since 1989, Canada has the shameful distinction of being a world leader in HIV criminalization. The consultations earlier this year showed that there is a definite need for change. All the while, we continue to see people convicted in the court of public opinion when their names, photos, and private health information is published in the media.

“The Government of Canada must respect the feedback they received from people living with HIV across the country during the consultation period and announce meaningful law reform to end HIV criminalization, in accordance with international best practices and current scientific evidence,” says André Capretti, Policy Analyst with the HIV Legal Network. “When stigma remains codified in law, the health and well-being of people living with HIV is under constant threat. This must end.”

As part of ongoing advocacy efforts, the HIV Legal Network — a founding member of the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization (CCRHC) — has reached out directly to federal and provincial prosecutors today to call for important changes to prosecutorial policies and practice, to ensure that the application of the criminal law reflects the latest scientific consensus.

“People are being charged, tried, and imprisoned when there was never a realistic possibility of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner,” says Capretti. “The current law is unscientific and overbroad. It is critical that prosecutorial guidelines in Canada reflect the scientific evidence. While Criminal Code reform is needed to address the harms of HIV criminalization at their source, prosecutorial guidelines to stop charges being laid are an essential harm reduction measure.”

“The prosecution of HIV non-disclosure simply reinforces the marginalization of people living with HIV,” says Janet Butler-McPhee, Co-Executive Director of the HIV Legal Network. “This is particularly true for Black and Indigenous people who face higher rates of HIV in Canada and experience disproportionate risk of prosecution for HIV non-disclosure.”

Canada has all the tools needed to address HIV in a meaningful way and reach its international goals. But these tools are largely ineffective as long as HIV is criminalized. It is only by enacting law reform and respecting the human rights of people living with HIV that we will finally see an end to this pandemic that has lasted more than four long decades. The Government of Canada knows what it needs to do, and we hope that this World AIDS Day will see them make the long-awaited announcement that they are ready to take the next step towards ending HIV criminalization in this country.


You can read the CCRHC Community Consensus Statement on HIV Criminalization here.


Megan Long – Communications Specialist – 


The HIV Legal Network promotes the human rights of people living with HIV or AIDS and other populations disproportionately affected by HIV, punitive laws and policies, and criminalization, in Canada and internationally. We do this through research and analysis, litigation and other advocacy, public education, and community mobilization.