A Toronto man has been arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault for failing to tell sex partners he was HIV-positive.
Ala Al Safi was originally charged in April, when a 27-year-old man claimed Al Safi had passed the virus to him during an unprotected encounter in 2011. This week, Al Safi was charged with a second count when another accuser, who he met online, came forward.
According to police, Al Safi did not disclose his status in either case, a violation of Canadian law.
The 24-year-old has been ordered by the court to always use condoms and make his condition known to sexual partners. The Toronto Star reports this is only the third time such an order has been given in the more than 20 years since Canada’s HIV-disclosure law was enacted.
According to an 1998 Canadian Supreme Court case, people living with HIV have a duty to disclose their HIV status before engaging in sexual behaviors that pose a “realistic possibility” of transmitting HIV, which includes condomless penetrative sex, or penetrative sex when the person’s viral load is more than “low,” even if a condom is used. It’s not clear if disclosure is required in sexual acts that have a lower risk of transmission, such as oral sex without a condom.
In 2015, more than 170 people who allegedly failed to disclose their HIV status had been charged with criminal offenses, with some sentenced to significant prison time for assault, criminal negligence, and even murder.
In the U.S., at least 30 states have HIV-criminalization laws: Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive man Iowa man with an undetectable viral load, was sentenced to 25 years after a single encounter even though he used a condom and his partner did not contract HIV.
Critics claim such statutes were written at a time when HIV was a death sentence and don’t address scientific advances in treatment. In fact states with HIV-criminalization laws have higher incidents of condomless anal sex, not lower.
“HIV is a public health issue, not a criminal issue,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-CA). “These felonies, which treat HIV differently than all other serious communicable diseases, stigmatize people living with HIV and discourage people from getting tested and into treatment.”