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Who? What? Where? When? And with What Consequences? An Analysis of Criminal Cases of HIV Non-disclosure in Canada1

  • Eric Mykhalovskiy (a1) and Glenn Betteridge (a2)

The use of criminal-law powers to respond to people with HIV who place others at risk of HIV infection has emerged as a focal point of AIDS advocacy at global, national, and local levels. In the Canadian context, reform efforts that address the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure have been hampered by the absence of data on the contours, scale, and outcomes of criminalization. This article responds to that gap in knowledge with the first comprehensive analysis of the temporal trends, demographic patterns, and aggregate outcomes of Canadian criminal cases of HIV non-disclosure. The authors draw on insights into the role that rendering social phenomena in numerical terms plays for the governance of social life in order to make criminalization “visible” in ways that might contribute to activist responses. The article examines temporal trends, demographic patterns, and outcomes separately. In each instance, the pattern or trend identified is described, potential explanations for findings are offered, and an account is given of how the data have informed efforts to reform criminal law. Particular attention is paid to the following key findings: a sharp increase in criminal cases that began in 2004; the large proportion of recent criminal cases involving defendants who are heterosexual Black, African, and Caribbean men; and the high proportion of criminal cases resulting in conviction. The article closes with suggestions for future research.


Le recours aux pouvoirs du droit pénal en vue de prendre des mesures à l'égard des personnes qui ont contracté le VIH et qui présentent un risque de transmission de ce virus à d'autres est devenu un élément central de l'activisme en ce qui a trait au sida, tant aux niveaux international, national que local. Dans le contexte canadien, les efforts de réforme visant à traiter la criminalisation de la non-divulgation de la séropositivité au VIH ont été ralentis par l'absence de données sur les profils, l'échelle et les effets de la criminalisation. Cet article vise à corriger une telle lacune en matière de connaissances grâce à la toute première analyse exhaustive des tendances temporelles, des modèles démographiques et de l'ensemble des résultats d'affaires criminelles canadiennes en matière de non-divulgation de la séropositivité au VIH. Cet article s'inspire de points de vue à propos du rôle que joue la représentation d'un phénomène social en termes numériques pour la gouvernance de la vie sociale, afin de rendre «visible» la criminalisation par des moyens qui pourraient contribuer aux mesures activistes. Cet article examine les tendances temporelles, les modèles démographiques et les résultats séparément. Pour chaque cas, nous décrivons la tendance ou le modèle que nous avons identifié, nous proposons d'éventuelles explications par rapport aux conclusions, et donnons un compte rendu de la façon dont les données ont servi de base aux efforts de réforme en matière de droit pénal. Une attention toute particulière est accordée aux principales conclusions suivantes: augmentation considérable des affaires criminelles depuis 2004; grande proportion d'affaires criminelles récentes incluant des défendeurs qui sont des hétérosexuels de race noire, des Africains et des hommes des Caraïbes; et importante proportion d'affaires criminelles aboutissant à une condamnation. L'article se termine par des suggestions en vue de recherches à venir.

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E. Mykhalovskiy , “The Problem of ‘Significant Risk’: Exploring the Public Health Impact of Criminalizing HIV Non-disclosure,” Social Science and Medicine 73 (2011): 670–77

P. O'Byrne , “Criminal Law and Public Health Practice: Are the Canadian HIV Disclosure Laws an Effective HIV Prevention Strategy?Sexuality Research and Social Policy 9, 1 (2012): 7079

S. Burris and E. Cameron , “The Case against Criminalization of HIV Transmission,” Journal of the American Medical Association 300, 5 (2008): 578–80

C. Dodds , “Responses to Criminal Prosecutions for HIV Transmission among Gay Men with HIV in England and Wales,” Reproductive Health Matters 17, 34 (2009): 135–45

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E. Mykhalovskiy , “Integrating HIV Treatment and Prevention: Shifts in Community-Based Organizing and Biopofitics in the Canadian Context,” in HIV Treatment and Prevention Technologies in International Perspective, ed. M. Davis and C. Squire , 6186 (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

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Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
  • ISSN: 0829-3201
  • EISSN: 1911-0227
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-society-la-revue-canadienne-droit-et-societe
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