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Liberals hope to deal with HIV non-disclosure issue if re-elected: Lametti

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TORONTO — The Liberals hope to address the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure if re-elected in the fall, the federal justice minister said Friday as advocacy groups pushed the government to make changes to the law.

HIV non-disclosure has led to assault or sexual assault charges because it’s been found to invalidate a partner’s consent — the rationale being that if someone knew a person had HIV, they wouldn’t consent to sexual activity because of the risk of transmission.

Advocates say the justice system lags behind the science on the issue, with a growing body of evidence saying there is no realistic possibility of transmission of HIV if a person is on antiretroviral therapy and has had a suppressed viral load for six months.

A parliamentary committee has been examining the issue for months and is expected to release a report with recommendations next week. Justice Minister David Lametti said the Liberals want to address the matter but won’t have time to act before the October election.

“Our legislative runway is over,” Lametti said after speaking at a symposium on HIV criminalization in Toronto. “The house will rise at some point, perhaps as early as next week … I hope that our government will be re-elected so we’ll be able to hit the ground running.”

Lametti said the Liberals, if returned to power, could explore options that include drafting a criminal law provision that targets intentional transmission of HIV.

“We need to look at the criminal law … and look at what’s within our jurisdiction … and trying to achieve that balance, as a number of people in the room have stated, in trying to draft a criminal law provision which targets only intent and not criminalize everything else,” he said.

Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said he’s concerned that the timing of the committee’s report — so close to the federal election — could mean its recommendations get lost.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this long, several-year process since the last election, to get to the point of actually having a committee report with some recommendations that could then inform possible legislation,” he said. “The issue, however, isn’t going to go away for people living with HIV … we will continue to press for Criminal Code reform.”

In 2017, then-federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she would examine how the criminal justice system dealt with people who do not disclose their HIV status to sexual partners.

Late last year, the government instructed federal prosecutors in the North that they should no longer prosecute anyone for not disclosing their HIV status to a sex partner where there is no risk of transmitting the virus. The rules apply only in the territories where federal prosecutors have jurisdiction.

Elliott said he’s hopeful that the Justice and Human Rights committee’s report will include a recommendation to establish a consistent policy for prosecutors at the provincial level.

Agencies advocating for de-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure agree that the law needs to change and it is a public health issue, not something that should be dealt with as sexual assault, he said.

“There is just a vast overreach in the Criminal Code as it’s been interpreted and applied,” he said. “Parliament needs to fix that and that will remain the case after the coming election.”

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

Health

Ottawa paid $75M for veterans’ cannabis last year, could pay $100M this year

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OTTAWA — The federal government shelled out a record $75 million to cover the cost of medical marijuana for veterans in the last fiscal year — and it is on track to spend nearly $100 million this year.

The figures from Veterans Affairs Canada come despite the government having cited rising costs and a lack of scientific evidence about the drug’s medical benefits for cutting how much cannabis it would cover for veterans.

Unless a veteran gets a special medical exemption, the government will reimburse veterans for a maximum three grams of medical marijuana per day, which is down from a previous maximum of 10 grams.

While the change in November 2016 reduced the government’s costs the following year, those savings were shortlived as more and more veterans turned to the government to pay for their medical marijuana.

Yet even as more veterans are using medical marijuana, Jason Busse of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medical Cannabis Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says its medical benefits remain unclear.

The federal government is putting money into more research, but Busse says it is concerning that more and more veterans and non-veterans are turning to the drug when there are so many unanswered questions about it.

The Canadian Press

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Health Canada warns against modifying vape pens as illness spreads in U.S.

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vaping

OTTAWA — Health Canada says people who vape should get medical attention right away if they’re worried their electronic cigarettes are harming them.

The federal department says there is no sign in Canada of an affliction reported in as many as 25 American states that seems to be linked to vaping, but it is monitoring the situation.

People have reported respiratory and gastric problems, one has died, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control isn’t sure why.

Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and signs of infection, such as fevers, without any apparent source.

There’s a possible connection to using e-cigarettes or vape pens to consume cannabis-derived products, but neither the CDC nor Health Canada is certain that’s the cause.

Health Canada is asking health workers to ask patients who come in with respiratory problems whether they use e-cigarettes, and is warning users not to modify them or use them in ways they’re not made for.

The Canadian Press

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