Those perfect Canadian men (update)

I’ve been meaning to write a cross-patch piece about Margaret Wente’s front page Globe and Mail story about the wickedness of gay men, but Chris Dupuis at Toronto’s ever-wonderful Xtra has done it for me. Although he doesn’t even get to the bit that most annoys me about her piece, her complete failure to recognise that DISCLOSING that one has HIV is much less important than KNOWING one has HIV.

If you’re a gay man in Canada who knows you’ve got HIV, there is a very high chance indeed that your infection will be monitored, and that you’ll be on treatment if you need it. And that in turn means that your viral load will be kept low, and you’ll be very much less infectious than you might be if you didn’t get regular checks and treatment. While I’d obviously like to see more positive people being able and willing to talk openly about their infection, the truth is that the chances of getting infected by someone with well-managed HIV is very slim, whether or not they tell you. And whether or not you bother to ask (because let’s face it sex does, usually, take at least two, each of whom can choose to take responsibility for themselves). But of course if you don’t KNOW you’re infected, you can’t be prosecuted for not disclosing. The criminalisation laws provide a strong disincentive to get tested. That means there’s more untreated virus around, and that in turn means more HIV transmission.

I could go on about the other logical inconsistencies in the piece — if not disclosing is murder, then are doctors who know a person’s status but don’t tell that person’s partner accessories to murder? etc etc. But I’m not going to, because I’m in Vancouver and have a whole day of good science at the Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS research to look forward to. In honour of my visit to Canada, though, I thought I’d post for your listening pleasure these priceless phone messages left by the flower of Canadian manhood for some woman who tried to slough off his letching with a business card. Hard to imagine why, instead of calling him back (“I’m practically the only man in this city who has not a single thing wrong with him”), she sent the messages in to a Toronto radio station.

Rick Kennedy of the Ontario AIDS Network sent me the following clarification:

According to the 2003 ruling in the William case “Once an individual becomes aware of a risk that he or she has contracted HIV, and hence that his or her partner’s consent has become an issue, but nevertheless persists in unprotected sex that creates a risk of further HIV transmission without disclosure to his or her partner, recklessness is established”.

To date, no one has been charged on the basis of this ruling. If you go to the Ontario AIDS Network website, to the
HIV debate section and download the excellent Powerpoint presentation by Glenn Betteridge you will find a detailed explnation of current status of the Canadain law.

So I did. Glenn’s presentation is here and there’s lots of other useful information about criminalisation on the Ontario AIDS Network site. Thanks, Rick.

And thanks to Javi for the phone number…

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This post was published on 24/04/09 in Good sex and bad, Science.

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  1. Comment by "Daisy", 26/04/09, 01:30:

    Hi Elizabeth, I have commented before on your blog and I am a commercial sex worker in Regina, Sk. I am independent and work from my home so I am not involved with the street worker scene or the drug-injection that can be a part of that. I understand from the above article that you are in Vancouver this weekend attending the Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS research. I am not sure if you have heard the latest news from Saskatchewan on HIV. Dr. Moira McKinnon, Chief Medical Officer for Sk. has told the CBC news media that there were 174 new cases of HIV here, a 40% increase from 2007. I believe we need your expertise in HIV/AIDS research in this province. Please,maybe you could stop by before you return to England. I think I will purchase numerous copies of your wonderful book and drop them off at the Street Worker’s Advocacy Project, the provincial STD clinic here, Dr. McKinnon’s office and various rehabs in this city. Thank-you so much for shining a bright light on these intertwined subjects in such a fair and sensible manner. All the best, Elizabeth. Regards, Daisy

  2. Comment by Diamond Dolly, 27/04/09, 08:26:

    The problem with charging one with murder for transmitting HIV, like the case in Canada recently, is where do you draw the line. The precedent being set is dangerous. I agree with Elizabeth that this will lead to more men not getting tested. Do you build prisons for people that have sex knowing they are positive? What about Hep C and other diseases? Are you guilty of assault if you pass the clap? What about someone with the flu going to a Grey Cup party? In life you pays yer money and you take yer chances.

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