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Legal issues front and centre in Toronto last week

Thursday, 25 June 2015 Written by // Philip J H Dawson Categories // Conferences, Legal, Philip J H Dawson

Our Philip J. H. Dawson reports from the 6th Symposium on HIV, Law and Human Rights from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in Toronto last week

Legal issues front and centre in Toronto last week

A day full of new information from Canada and afar.

This was a well attended and extremely successful Symposium from The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Friday, June 19th saw a room full of essential people playing a part in today's HIV Community during a symposium on HIV and the law  at the 519 Community Centre in Toronto. 

Rising Again To The Challenge: Lessons From The HIV Response For Hepatitis C Prevention And Treatment. 

Guest Speakers: Jeff Potts, Canadian AIDS Society; Cheryl Reitz, HepCBC' Tahir Amin, I-MAK (Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge), Zoë Dodd, South Riverdale Community Health Centre (Toronto). 

Always an intriguing topic, the morning started off with four speakers taking on the challenging topic of Hepatitis C in the HIV community today. This discussion detailed how the response to Hepatitis C is affecting the community, the front-line workers and the lessons learned from strategies that have been adapted from the HIV response. The several areas discussed included the effective harm reduction services provided by front-line programs and staff in AIDS service organizations, the patent and pricing barriers aroiund medicines, and provincial health insurance plans to expand coverage and access. 

Hepatitis C effects all areas of society, however, the highest impact seems to be that of the low and middle income countries. The enormous amount of work needed has really just begun, much to do with little additional resources to create effective results – feeling quite similar to the early days of the HIV epidemic. 

HIV Criminalization: Emerging Strategies And Alliances To Combat Unjust Prosecutions

Guest Speakers: Mark Tyndall, BC Centre for Disease Control; Allison Symington, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Cécile Kazatchkine, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Lenore Lukasik-Foss, Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area 

Speak the words 'HIV Criminalization' anywhere in the poz community and it brings eruptions of thought, one's own strong view expressed loudly, and passionate and emotional ways of viewing this law as it now stands, messy and misguided. Startling too that it's in Canada! 

Thus it was a standing-room-only affair for the second session of The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network's Symposium.

Canada often uses Aggravated Sexual Assault charges in HIV crimiinlaization cases. It's a complex issue which  presents a hard challenge and engagement with the courts is an ongoing struggle. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is trying different strategies with different partnerships trying to bring science and justice together in the Courts. Sexual assault and HIV disclosure simply do not link well. 

Of concern is that following a letter of request from the RCMP, your health records have to be made available immediately and  may become part of  the public record.

Mark Tyndall stated he has been involved in testifying for the defence in six-seven court cases. He says one of the biggest threats is how poorly this issue, particularly the science of transmission,  is understood. Tyndall is encouraging colleagues to become involved as  expert witnesses because the information they can provide is  useful both to the Courts and helpful to the person charged.

There is enough definitive research now on the transmission of HIV that laws like this are unnecessary.  Laws should have very little to do with dealing with a health issue. There are  no time limitations on when you can be charged with non-disclosure, creating a major threat to prevention, coupled with a lot of misinformation out there.

It's almost always hard to say transmission risk is zero. Cases are occurring where some are being charged who have an undetectable viral load. One charged in this manner got a six year sentence. 

Another case involved a paramedic who was treating an HIV-positive male with life saving procedures. Then when he found out the male was HIV-positive, the man was charged.

There are signs of hope as experts and lawyers across the country are being encouraged to use a science-based approach to create a tool which can be used so some charges will hopefully be screened out. It makes sense to include the science of HIV and include doctors in all trials. The Legal Network has worked on this for a long time. 

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network new documentary film, “Consent: HIV Non-Disclosure And Sexual Assault Law” was unveiled. It is a documentary from a woman's point of view. However, the laws are such that men can also relate. 

In the documentary several women activists give their views of how sexual assault and non-disclosure are now linked as a result of the Supreme Court's rulings. 

Being faced with a destroyed reputation including placement on the sex offenders registry has the potential to drive sexually active people with HIV underground. Only the U.S. has more convictions.

People don't want anyone else choosing or making the decision to disclose but themselves, yet the law assumes the HIV-negative partner is entitled to status information.  

Does HIV non disclosure and "exposure" represent the same kind of harm as sexual assault? In these circumstances, can a man or woman with HIV really be termed a sex offender?

The focus should be level-headed and positioned on real fairness towards what consent to sex actually means – not a reversal of all the years of HIV knowledge and advocacy which has exposed this law as unjust.

Women who shared their views in this documentary film are: Darien Taylor, activist; Alana Klein, McGill University; Joanna Baribaum, lawyer; Kim Shoho Buchanan; Lise Gotell - University of Alberta; Elaine Craig, Dalhousie University; Lenore Lukasik-Foss, SACHA Hamilton. 

Better Health Through Better Drug Policy 

Guest Speakers: Luciana Pol, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales' Donald MacPherson, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition' Don Baker, Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly; Mikhail Golichenko, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network 

Luciana Pol, of Centro de Estudios Legales y SocialesRole, spoke at length about Latin America and the role this region is playing in today's world.  After many years and heavy debate the system is set up with a more diversified way of providing health. Medication access, failures in distribution and the 'security practices of police' pose the largest problem at this time.  Women are affected heavily by the way they are treated through loss of dignity and the common nature of secondary status to that of men. 

Drug trafficing is causing a huge disruption in health care. Practices are poor for helping people with day-to-day health problems. 

In 2009 Mexico, Columbia, and other Latin America countries reached out and made a clear statement on what was not working in health care presently there. It stated it is imperative to take away the attention given by the governments to drugs and put those resources instead into hospitals, clinics and doctors. Governments promised to act - yet nothing has happened. 

The United Nations did notice. The UN has accepted a special Session for drug policies in advance of the planned 2019 session suggesting now is the time to clean up the mistakes of the past. 

The fear is now changing to hope. Leaders are being replaced; drug laws are slowly changing; some areas have people speaking of inspirational ways for change. Citizens of Latin America are beginning to believe that change can come. 

Donald MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition  presented his view that, “Drugs aren't the problem.” We could take away the time and effort to track down the people buying and using the drugs - and turn 180 degrees to the areas lacking and needing those dollars, open safe injection sites, monitor people's usage and keep the crime and fea down. That we live in an age of Drug Prohibition has been a massive distraction of what really needs to be done now.  

It's the wrong way to go when governments push “Health crime and doing Time!” says MacPherson.  Portugal has shown you don't have to have a problem by de-criminalizing drugs. 

Canada was once highly regarded in the international community for taking on an important role in discussions on drug policy with other countries. Now, under the Harper government, that door is closed! 

A new government  in Canada  will be highly beneficial on all fronts, suggested MacPherson, with a new policy brief on drugs in the best case scenario. Then Canada can try to impact the UN with meaningful discussions on drugs.  

Russian Mikhail Golichenko spoke about Russia today and the problems it faces with drugs, and of the closed-minded tactics of the Putin regime. Mikhail Golichenko also works with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network here in Canada. 

Russia faces a dark world with two prevalent health concerns related to ineffective drug control: and with HIV not being well supported in health care facilities, as well as high methadone usage. Russia is trying to stop the problem from growing. Very little is happening in support of getting the word out and getting things done. Criminalization is coming fast and a very stark Russia is about to get even harsher.  

The training and use of street community workers had allowed Russia to be able to help people using and getting drugs and/or who were living with HIV. Putin is changing all this today. 

The Russian government is going after the groups who support the growth and building of new and dynamic ways to live with drugs.  It's closing down the places of health support and arresting health care workers. The very people advocating and getting results for HIV-positive individuals and drug users are being hunted down.  It is a new type of anti-revolution in Russia where results and health care are labelled as the villain. 

Don Baker of the Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly talked about how capacity building in the community has grown and produced concrete results throughout the province. 

A voice to every drug user is the mission. Respect for every drug user is now the result. This has created much movement and several groups forming in Alberta and British Columbia for helping drug users combat their addiction and to provide support where there was none before. 

The entire Downtown Eastside of Vancouver has finally been immobilized in an effective way that helps its people cope with the traumatic and heartbreaking usage of street drugs.  

Alberta has used the model of Van-Do as a way to build fast. This is Don Baker's strong passion. Alberta now has  five to  nine groups. They use public speaking and peers to meet one-on-one with drug users to spectacular feedback and good outcomes. Van-Do changed the whole dynamic, prompting a need to get women and younger people into the group for its growth. 

The House me First Project was formed with the focus on making sure people had a roof over their head. Then work to help their drug usage could begin within a caring environment. 

And as a result of all the work Don Baker and his team perform Harm Reduction Awareness Day is now part of the yearly calender.