Alex Blaze

Man's HIV status disclosed, photo released by police calling him "sexual predator"

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 28, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Canada, HIV/AIDS, ottawa, picture, police, public health, release

I know, as always, that I'm the oddball on this issue, but I just don't think the long arm of the law is the best way to deal with HIV as a public health problem. THT-Policing-Transmission-w.jpgIt only increases stigma, puts poz people in a place where HIV spreads more freely than in the outside world, and has never been shown to alleviate anyone's suffering. (And, yes, I have a pragmatic streak so defenses of throwing people in prison that are based on "retribution" or "He knew the law before he broke it so screw him" tend to bounce off of me.)

Anyway, this sort of thing is inevitable when having sex while seropositive is illegal:

In May, Steven Paul Boone, 29, was charged with aggravated sexual assault for allegedly knowingly failing to disclose his HIV-positive status to another Ottawa man, now 18, who contracted the disease after the two had unprotected sex in January and February.

After charging Mr. Boone with the first count in May, the Ottawa Police Service took what it called "the extraordinary measure" of releasing his photo to local media.

Further aggravating tensions between police and the gay community, Ottawa police Inspector Joan McKenna, who co-chairs the force's gay liaison committee, emailed a news release about Mr. Boone in May. The subject line read "sexual predator."

Remember, Boone has only been charged, he hasn't been convicted, but now even if he is acquitted or manages to prove his innocence, future employers will only have to Google his name to assume he's a seropositive sex predator.

And here's the crux of the problem: the police now think that they're public health officials, not just implementing public health policy but actually developing it themselves:

"The release of the photo has proved to be very important aspect of the investigation from both an investigative and, more importantly, a public health perspective," said Acting Inspector John McGetrick.

How does he know that it'll help, from "a public health perspective"? Is McGetrick up to date on the latest studies of HIV and how it spreads? Does he have any proof that locking someone up will actually reduce infection rates? Has he studied the messages the Canadian government is sending about prevention and analyzed how releasing this photo works to support or complement them? Does he know the first thing about convincing populations to use condoms during casual sex? Does he have experience with safer sex education?

Or is he just a cop who thinks that locking up someone who did something bad is the best way to solve any problem, so he declares himself an expert?

Moreover, why should we believe that those accusations are all true without a conviction? While the article implies that Canadian police are allowed to disclose someone's HIV status this way, isn't the justification for an authoritarian power grab by the police always grounded in protecting the public's safety some way? If we automatically believed that people are guilty just because the police accuse them of being guilty, we wouldn't need all those pesky lawyers and judges and trials and courts. We'd just lock them up for being accused.

Either way, relying more on police to fight HIV is the path both Canada and the US are headed down.

Where Canadian courts are concerned, people infected with HIV by sexual partners are increasingly being treated as victims of crime. A report by the Global Network of People Living with HIV says Canada's 63 HIVrelated criminal convictions as of last November put it second only to the United States, where more than 300 such cases have been successfully prosecuted.

In April 2009, the first conviction for killing someone with HIV was registered in Canada when a Hamilton jury found Johnson Aziga guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Two women he had had sex with later died of AIDS.

Mr. Bauer argued before the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday that the public health infrastructure, not law enforcement, should deal with most cases where an HIV-positive person may have had unprotected sex with unsuspecting partners.

It takes two people to spread HIV, an entire community to make it a public health problem, and a population to solve that problem. If we just pluck out a person or two out of that system every now and then and punish them, then we're doing nothing to address the real issue.

That assumes that our goal is to actually prevent the transmission of HIV, and I'm not so sure that everyone's working towards that. Since the world we're living in now uses punishment and suffering as the solution to any problem, from unemployment to poor education, one would almost think punishment is an end in and of itself.

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Sorry, but I can't agree with this.

If you have sex with someone, it's your responsibility to use protection, and having unprotected sex with some guy you meet online or at a bar is stupid.

But at the same time, if you knowingly carry an incurable viral infection that can lead to a deadly disease, preventable only with a complex mix of drugs that causes numerous side effects and costs thousands of dollars, then it's your responsibility to make potential sexual partners aware of it. If you have HIV and are aware of it and have unprotected sex with someone, then you should be punished for it. Period.

I'm not calling for making it illegal to have sex if you have HIV or any kind of similarly draconian measure, but it's patently irresponsible and reckless to fuck people without condoms if you know you have it and/or to not tell potential partners that you do have it.

Again, the victim shares responsibility also for not using a condom, but last time I checked, if you're on trial for burglary, you can't defend yourself by saying, "Well, the guy's door was unlocked!"

But you can defend yourself with "He gave me the goods!" The door here, so to speak, was more than just unlocked.

I agree that there is a responsibility to disclose before sex. But the law isn't an effective way to make people disclose.

We should be devising means of getting people to disclose, not throwing people in prison who don't. Because the only messages that sends are "Don't get tested" and "He has to disclose so he would have told you he had HIV if he did."

You have a valid point in the last paragraph, for sure...

However, I don't think people who don't disclose are necessarily sociopaths, but that they just don't think to. If people know that it's not just morally but legally wrong not to disclose, that would probably make them more likely to do it.

"If people know that it's not just morally but legally wrong not to disclose, that would probably make them more likely to do it."

For some people, maybe. But among the gay & bi men I worked with as an HIV counselor/tester, there were other issues working against disclosure and negotiating safer sex. Some sex spaces have minimal conversation...about anything, much less a potential dealbreaker. Substance use, especially alcohol, plays a major part in gay social life, and in unsafe sex. And what we are learning now about the neurobiology of sexual arousal gives evidence that when aroused, someone has less activity in the part of their brain which foresees consequences. That old saying about their being only enough blood flow for one head at a time? Not so far from the truth!

Finally, as I always wonder in these cases, how do we know that it was actually the defendant who was the person who infected the plaintiff? That is hard to prove, perhaps most difficult in situations where the sex was "casual."

"how do we know that it was actually the defendant who was the person who infected the plaintiff? That is hard to prove, perhaps most difficult in situations where the sex was "casual.""

Exactly! I think this whole model of punishment/surveillance works on an antiquated notion that there can always be a "patient zero." In reality, infectious diseases spread in far more nebulous ways. The notion of a "patient zero" especially helps to bolster our again, antiquated and useless, notions of sexual purity - that somehow, somewhere out there exists a community or communities of people (virginal women, innocent gay men, etc.) who either don't have sex until their encounter with these supposed "predators" or whose sex lives have been normative (serial monogamy, perhaps) to the extreme.

These new laws are profoundly disturbing. Thanks for the piece, Alex.

We should be devising means of getting people to disclose ...

William F. Buckley suggested that every pozzie have a special tattoo on his butt, and shortly thereafter some wag suggested that the tattoo should say "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!" ... That what you have in mind, Alex?

There are no winners here.

1. The "carrier" should disclose AND insist on using protection.

2. No one should be having unprotected casual sex OR should understand that there is a grave risk (not just of HIV but ALL STDs, pregnancy (where applicable), etc.) for so doing and accept the consequences.

3. Arrest information should NEVER be released. Conviction information, maybe (I'm up in the air on that until all appeals are exhausted).

If the law is to assume innocence until otherwise proven and if the law is charged with protecting the innocent - there is NO rationale for this person's identity (let alone photo) being released. Heads should roll!

John Gagon | July 29, 2010 4:22 AM

I agree in principle with the awareness and effects of, but not the method of scapegoating in order to deter. I really do think society has dropped the ball here. Crimes like this are often committed because no one is sure of what they "must" do versus just "ought" to do..

I am quite certain more people are aware of what happens if one doesn't have a seat-belt on when being pulled over by a traffic cop, than what happens when one conveniently forgets their HIV status while bagging a hot trick. There is a lot more advertisement about seat belts than the consequences of not disclosing HIV. Then again, there's no formality of it.

I think a tattoo (like the bio-hazard ones) are a good idea (voluntarily). It express pride, gives ample warning and protects one from getting scapegoated. Still, with an often "stealthy" bug like HIV, there's nothing ideal. We basically need to educate the public and express ourselves better.

John Gagon | July 29, 2010 4:33 AM

I should add too, while it is a crime, it is a gray area whether or not this falls under quarantine or health privacy. The law is not specific but invasion of constitutionally protected privacy has some precedent-ed exceptions when probable cause and evidence of harm are established. Still, there are limits, often local ones as to what gets disclosed. Police activity is often public record. Arrests happen, (for alleged DUI for example) without conviction and similar public disclosure. The police could go too far in going out of their way to publicize it but they may not be required to keep it out of public record either. News organizations also may have freedoms that give them license to slander anyone they want without recourse. Of course, the source of the news might be held accountable and there can be lawsuits after the fact but news agencies use their own discretion for the most part.

I lived in Ft Lauderdale, FL for 16 years where there are many HIV+ men. I always felt it was my responsibility to have safe sex to protect myself. Of course people should disclose, but realistically we all know that is not reality.

Steven Paul Boone, the 29-year-old now behind bars in Ottawa, is charged with more than nine incidents of aggravated sexual assault and according to a spokesperson for the Ontario Police Services there are more potential victims in the province who have not yet come forward.

According to a source with the OPS, because of the nature of the allegations coupled with the Public Health Threat as defined under Canadian Law, the Crown's Attorney Office was consulted by Police inspectors in several provincial cities and towns in regard to this specific case. It was then, that a decision was reached to publish the young man's photograph pre-conviction.

However, police said they cannot charge someone with aggravated sexual assault unless the assault causes bodily harm.
Although the sex was consensual, police say the root of the problem is that the man did not disclose his medical condition.

"The Ottawa Police is releasing the picture of the charged man - an extraordinary measure - to ensure that all sexual partners are informed that medical follow-up is warranted," Acting Police Chief Gilles Larochelle stated in a media release on May 7th, 2010

Information had also been revealed that warranted labeling Mr. Boone with the appellation of 'sexual predator.'

According to a journalistic colleague of this correspondent at CTV's Ottawa bureau, Melissa Juergensen, Ottawa police began their investigation of Boone on April 30 after a male victim reported he contracted an infectious disease from a man who failed to disclose his medical condition.

Last year, a jury found a Hamilton man guilty of first-degree murder after two women died after he had unprotected sex with them and failed to disclose that he was HIV-positive.

The historic ruling put Johnson Aziga behind bars for murder, as well as 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault.

In all, Aziga infected seven women with HIV after neglecting to tell them about his condition. He was the first person in Canada charged with lethally infecting sexual partners with HIV.

~ Brody Levesque