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Friday 20 February 2009

Canada: HIV doctor apologises for 'offensive' pro-criminalisation article

A Canadian HIV clinician whose pro-criminalisation views made the front page of the The Guelph Mercury last week has issued a letter of apology and clarification, stating that she is "definitely not 'pushing for criminal charges'."

The article, published on February 6th, and written by staff writer, Rob O'Flanagan, claimed that:

A leading HIV/AIDS physician in Guelph says those infected with the disease who recklessly spread it to others should be charged with a criminal offence.

It went on to quote Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik – a highly regarded HIV primary care physician who also volunteers at the Tsepong Place of Hope AIDS Clinic in Lesotho, and is a Board member of OHAfrica – as saying:

"If I assume that someone who is HIV positive knows they are, and I assume that they've also received the care that's available in this country, then they have received counselling that tells them how to practise safe sex.

"Someone who knows they are HIV positive, but has not listened to the counselling and continues to live a very disorganized life for whatever reason, and knowingly transmits the virus to someone else, that is a criminal act."

The article then quotes an anti-criminalisation advocate, who, unfortunately, brings denalism into the argument.

I have skepticism around AIDS in the same way a lot of people have skepticism around cancer," he said. "Some people get cancer and they die. Some people get cancer and they don't die. The same thing happens with AIDS. I am not one of these people that think that HIV is like a loaded gun that is going to kill you."


But Zajdlik said she believes AIDS is a deadly illness, "and if you know you have it and engage in an act that you know is likely to transmit it, and you don't tell your partner -- giving them the opportunity to protect themselves -- that's a crime," she said.

"And if you don't charge someone who has the mindset that, 'I have HIV and I don't care, or I have HIV and I will have sex with whoever I want to and I don't need to tell them,' then you are putting the community at risk."
Now, in an email circulated to HIV advocates around Canada, Dr Zajdlik passes on her "regrets and apologies to anyone who is offended by The Guelph Mercury Article on the Criminalization of HIV".

She goes on to write: "The journalist who wrote the article used quite a bit of licence and gave the article a tone which I take offence to. I am not an expert in this area. I am not knowledgeable on all of the issues associated with this topic and I am the last person on earth who would wish in anyway that those infected with HIV would be marginalized or unjustly penalized. I am definitely not 'Pushing for criminal charges'.

"I was unwise to speak to this journalist on this topic. I will not engage in further public discussion concerning this issue and I apologize to those who may be confused or offended by the contents of the article and my contribution to it."

The article comes at a time when prosecutions of HIV-positive people for exposing their sexual partners to virus are taking place on a weekly basis in Canada. The highest profile case is that of Johnson Aziga, whose double first-degree murder trial has been on a two month hiatus whilst his defence team prepare their evidence, and whose trial has received a great deal of publicity.

However, advocates are fighting back, including the recently-formed Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law and HIV Exposure. Canada's national gay newspaper, Xtra, has also launched a campaign to condem the criminalisation of HIV - the campaign's Facebook page currently has almost 250 members.



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