Editor’s note: Boone, 31, has two days ago been found guilty of the attempted murder of three men, three counts of aggravated sexual assault and three counts of administering a noxious substance (ie, his semen). You can read about the controversial case here.
This article written by Michael Burtch for PositiveLite.com originally appeared on PositiveLite.com on August 10, 2011.
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network provided the following comment this week: "The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is not involved in the criminal case decided today in Ottawa and will not offer comment on the specific facts, legal arguments and resulting sentence.
In general, the Legal Network opposes criminal charges for HIV non-disclosure in cases of otherwise consensual sex, because an overly broad use of the criminal law does more harm than good. We recognize that criminal charges may be warranted in limited circumstances such as those rare occasions where an individual has a malicious intent to infect someone and there is a scientifically significant risk of transmission.
We oppose charges for non-disclosure in cases of oral sex, where the science confirms that the risk of transmission is approaching zero. We also oppose charges in cases where people practice safer sex (e.g., use condoms) or have a low viral load, again because the risks of transmission are not scientifically significant enough to justify criminal prosecution."
As to further further reaction, The AIDS Committee of Ottawa has provided a statement which you can read following this interview.
Michael Burtch: On April 28th I conducted an interview with Steven Boone at the Maplehurst Correctional Facility. Steven had asked that I use my pulpit as a blogger for PositiveLite.com to share his experiences about being behind bars and being charged under the criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure We agreed that questions pertaining to the specifics of his trial were off limits, and that the interview would not be posted until the conclusion of his preliminary trail on July 14th . On that date, Steven made national headlines when judge David Wake dropped all attempted murder charges again him. He will stand trial for 21 other charges in early 2012.
(The story "HIV infection not a death sentence" was covered in PostiveLite here. )
Michael Burtch: Can you describe your arrest? What happened?
Steven Boone: I was at a friends house just chilling when I received a phone call around midnight on May 5th/6th, 2010. The call showed up as a Private Number, it was Sergeant McGetrick of the Ottawa Police Services. She explained to me that she needed to speak to me, I asked if it could wait until the next day and she said that it couldn’t wait. I became concerned and asked her point blank if I was under arrest and she said no, she just wanted to talk, then I would be free to go. We arranged to meet at a Tim Hortons at 12:30am. I had left my car at home, so my friend drove me to the Tim Hortons. When we got there, there was no sign of the Police, so we decided to go through the drive thru and get Iced Caps. By the time we got to the window, we were surrounded by a SWAT team and I was arrested.
MB: You’ve now been in jail longer than you’ve been HIV+. Can you tell me a bit about what life behind bars has been like for you over the last 12 months?
SB: It’s been difficult. Most of the people I meet are career criminals, drug addicts, and violent offenders, since I’m none of these, and I don’t consider myself a criminal, I don’t really feel that I fit in with those around me. I’m forced to associate with people I would not usually associate with, which causes me great anxiety on a daily basis. The food served is below standards and the jail guards treat inmates like we’re cattle. This experience has been the most humiliating and degrading experience of my life.
MB: You’ve had your name, picture, sexuality, and your HIV status released by the Ottawa Police to the media. How has that impacted your experience behind bars while you await trial?
SB: It has seriously impacted my experience behind bars because I have experienced homophobia, and discrimination in relation to my HIV status, by both fellow inmates, as well as jail staff, as a result. I also spent several months in segregation as a result of the publicity in my case. I’ve also suffered from verbal death threats, physical assaults, and sexual abuse, all unprovoked, by other inmates and even corrections staff. Despite being in “Protective Custody” I haven’t felt very protected. By releasing my name, picture, sexuality, and HIV status, the Ottawa Police put my life in unnecessary danger and caused many dangerous events to take place. Because of this, I’ve had to be moved to Maplehurst, a jail 6 hours from Ottawa, in Milton, Ontario where I can maintain a low profile and remain safe. This was something I had to request.
MB: What’s been the impact on your friends and family since the release of the details concerning your charges?
SB: It’s been difficult especially for my family, mostly because I’m still incarcerated and because of all the publicity. Everyone in my family has been very supportive. My Mom tries to make it to my court appearances as often as possible, as do my sisters. When I’m in Ottawa, they all try to visit as much as possible, unfortunately, inmates are only allowed two visits per week. Initially, the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre was often turning away my family and friends who would try to visit. My Mom, who would drive an hour to see me each time, was especially upset by this. Another issue is that inmates are only allowed to make collect calls, which generally causes outrageous phone bills for family members who have landline telephones (as cell phones do not accept collect calls).
MB: I was shocked when you told me that Public Health served you with a Section 22 after you were already incarcerated. What kind of support are you getting around your HIV status from behind bars, agency or otherwise?
SB: As you know Michael, I’m in regular contact with the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and the staff there have been really supportive since my arrest. I have also been receiving support from PASAN (Prisoners HIV/AIDS Support Action Network) surrounding my HIV status. I have a case worker with PASAN named Mooky, whom I speak to over the phone on a regular basis and comes to visit me at the jail whoever possible. PASAN is a great resource for inmates living with HIV, and they even put out a newsletter called ‘Cell Count’ for inmates. ‘Cell Count’ brings HIV/AIDS awareness to the prison population, a well as prisoner rights information, inmates are encouraged to submit artwork, poems, and their own thoughts, there’s also a pen pal section. Anyone can check out the PASAN website at www.pasan.org .
MB: You started HIV medication while imprisoned. Have you been regularly receiving your doses? Have you been experiencing any side effects?
SB: Yes, I started HIV medication in September 2010 after asking for several months to be placed on them. I’m only actually taking one pill a day, it’s called Atripla. The only side effect I’ve experienced is vivid dreams [but] my HIV specialist says [I’ve reacted] very well to the medication, my viral load is now undetectable I am very happy to report. There have been a couple of instances while being transferred back to Ottawa where I was denied my HIV meds. I’ve brought this up with Mooky, and he assures me that the next time I am transferred, he will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Statement from the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2012 - Since 1985 the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) has provided support, prevention, education and outreach services from an integrated anti-racism anti-oppression social justice framework that promotes the holistic wellbeing of those living with, affected by, impacted by and at risk of HIV/AIDS in Ottawa. Given these values, ACO would like to express its discontent and trepidation given the guilty verdicts of Steven Boone on October 31, 2012.
Yesterday’s verdicts go beyond Steven Boone, as it sets an unwarranted precedent for all people living with HIV/AIDS. The severity of the charges against Mr. Boone was far too great as HIV is not the threat it once was. An AIDS diagnosis in Canada today is rare and highly treatable. Thanks to advancements in pharmaceuticals and medical treatment, PHAs (people living with HIV/AIDS) are now able to lead long, healthy, and productive lives. Yesterday’s verdicts contradict medical science and merely promote fear and hatred. These verdicts have painted Steven Boone, and peripherally all PHAs, as malicious and toxic.
These verdicts will aid to increase rates of HIV in Canada as talking about sex goes back into the closet and stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS continues to thrive. Today, 30% of people living with HIV in Canada are not aware of their status. The fear these verdicts perpetuates will discourage individuals from accessing sexual health testing and treatment. Consequently, the demonization of people living with HIV as vectors of infection only hinders HIV education and prevention programs.
ACO cannot ignore the homophobia and sex negativity that plays into this case. This case depicts the continual targeting of PHAs seen through disproportionately high conviction rates in HIV non-disclosure cases compared to considerably lower conviction rates in other sexual assault cases. This trial will only act to fuel the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. In an ideal world, we would all be able to talk about sex and our sexual health openly and honestly, and negotiate safer sex. However, we live in a world where disclosing one’s HIV status means one is met with physical violence, stigma, and criminalization.
These verdicts, in conjunction with the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent ruling on HIV non-disclosure, has unraveled decades of work done in HIV prevention and education. Furthermore, expecting the law to replace each of our responsibility to protect ourselves and our partners is flawed logic. HIV is a medical issue, not a legal one and Canadian law is not a replacement for a condom. The spectacle of the court case and the Crown’s arguments have provided citizens with faulty facts regarding HIV transmission and ignored the complex realities PHAs face each and every day. These verdicts are nothing to be celebrated. No one has “won”. Criminalization is not the answer.