Big Ideas + Actions

HIV Criminalization Reform in Canada: Speak Up, Be Heard, Trigger Change!

HIV Criminalization Reform in Canada: Speak Up, Be Heard, Trigger Change!

December 29, 2022
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For community worker, television host and HIV activist, Randy Davis — a.k.a., The Accidental Activist — early days of living with HIV were especially rocky.

“Early on in my diagnosis, my hand was sort of forced,” Randy Davis explains in this month’s encore pozcast episode. “There was a situation where, you know, ‘either you reveal your HIV status, or I'm going to do it for you’.”

So given the third-party threat, Davis chose to own it, going ahead and sharing his positive status with others in his orbit. “This is my story to tell, and even though I wasn't ready to tell it just yet… I wanted to make sure it was my story.”

Reasonably, Davis originally thought that the only people he’d ever need to disclose his status to are people he may have decided to have a sexual relationship with. “Anybody else­­, it’s not their business,” he said.

Still, “this angered me,” admitting, “I was very naive around disclosure laws and HIV criminalization, I really knew very little about that,” Davis explains.

Among the many battles people living with HIV may have to confront and endure, HIV criminalization is among the most insidious and disturbing –– well deserving of the sort of angry one-two punches, like Davis and other fearless HIV activist leaders regularly throw.

Outdated. Unscientific. Discriminatory.

The Canadian laws regarding HIV non disclosure disproportionately impact marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ2+ individuals and sex workers. They further discourage people from getting tested for HIV or disclosing their status, leading to a lack of access to care and treatment. This can have serious consequences for both the individual and the broader community, as it can contribute to the spread of HIV.

Discriminatory and based on misinformation and stigma, these archaic (and arcane) laws not only unfairly affect the most vulnerable, they're ineffective at preventing HIV transmission.

This is where we flood the streets, and stand in front of the government offices... demand they be addressed. –– Randy Davis

According to the document published by the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization (CCRHC) –– a national coalition of people living with HIV, community organizations, lawyers, researchers, and others –– Canada has been a global hotspot for HIV criminalization, which again, causes multiple harms to people living with HIV and undermines an effective public health response.

It’s clear these laws need to finally change –– making way for science-based education, access to testing and prevention methods, and supports for people living with HIV.

Advocates have long called for legal changes. On October 20, 2022, the federal government launched a national public consultation on reforming Canada’s criminal laws on HIV non-disclosure, it may introduce in Parliament. The consultation process will run just another couple of weeks to January 13, 2023, and seeks anyone's input (see link below, 'Who can participate?').

To be an activist is to speak. To be an advocate is to listen. Society can’t move forward without both. — Eva Lewis

For Randy Davis, making life-changing progress takes guts, from the inside out, “…just find the political will, and if that means we have to start getting out there and talking more bluntly, and perhaps even shaming some folks — we really need to get angry," Davis implores about U=U in the pozcast, plus any action that supports people living with HIV, and LGBTQ2+ people and communities. "This is where we flood the streets, and stand in front of the government offices for our healthcare and demand be addressed.”

In the same way, the voices of people living with HIV, and organizations working in the HIV response need to be heard by the government throughout this HIV non-disclosure consultation process.

Who can participate?

Anyone, "they are seeking input from 'stakeholders and the public'", according to CCRHC. You can choose to respond to the survey as an individual or as an organization. Plus, your participation can be totally anonymous.

Read more about HIV criminalization and the government's Public Consultation Survey, plus check out the Coalition’s own recommended changes to the law, as well as its most recent, Community Consensus Statement. You can also sign up to endorse its proposed changes shared with politicians. The site further provides suggested responses to the Consultation Survey, and offers answers to frequently asked questions.

The Accidental HIV Activist, social media persona, Gay Men's Sexual Health Coordinator at the Gilbert Centre, and TV Host of Let's Be Perfectly Queer with Randy Davis
Considering the government’s imminent consultation on HIV non-disclosure, we present an encore, pumped-up pozcast episode, The Accidental Activist

In it, James Watson continues his exploration of leadership and HIV activism from past episodes in an effort to understand more about the activist journey. How do you go from walking along quietly in your life, to finding that power in your voice and stepping up to try to make a difference in your world? Where's that change moment? What's the trigger? To discuss all of this and more, James speaks with the HIV Accidental Activist himself, Randy Davis.

As an activist and advocate for people living with HIV, Randy is a loud and proud supporter of the U=U message and movement. Unafraid and unapologetic, Randy shares his lived experiences and his authentic self with all who wish to help end the shame and ignorance around HIV/AIDS.

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