HIV-positive Alberta teen denied bail
The teenage Alberta girl accused of having unprotected sex without disclosing that she is HIV-positive was denied bail Tuesday on two charges of aggravated sexual assault. A judge in Edmonton ordered her kept in custody and imposed a publication ban on evidence presented at the hearing, which is automatic when the defence requests it.
Following complaints from two males, Edmonton police took the unusual step of obtaining a court order that allowed them to release the 17-year-old's name and photograph as part of their effort to find her.
She was arrested in Edson, Alta., charged and can no longer be named because of prohibitions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Shortly after her name and photograph were made public, a third complainant came forward to police.
It is a crime in Canada for a person who is knowingly HIV-positive to have unprotected sex without telling a partner about the infection. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that someone cannot give valid consent to unprotected intercourse while unaware of a partner's HIV.
Release of information 'overreaction'
More questions were raised Tuesday about whether it was necessary for police to release the girl's name, photo and medical condition in the first place. "She's the victim, being victimized again, by a system that says that she is a bad person," said Wallis Kendal, an advocate who works with troubled youth in Edmonton. Kendal was in the courtroom Tuesday to support the young woman during her first appearance. He wonders how hard police worked to find her before releasing her personal information to the public.
Legal experts shared Kendal's concerns.
"It should be used as a last resort. Not as a starting point," said Tracey Bailey, the executive director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta. "I would hope that we would start with lesser measures wherever we can."
Richard Elliott, the executive director of the Canadian HIV Legal Network, called the move an overreaction by Edmonton police and worried about the precedent it may set. "The fact this was done now with a young person under the age of 18 for the first time may well encourage other police services to do this again in [the] future," he said.
The advocacy group HIV Edmonton also criticized the police decision to release the teen's name and photo, saying it was an overreaction and that it could discourage others from coming forward. "It makes you really sick to your stomach because you know that this is going to be following this young woman for the rest of her life," Shelley Williams, the organization's interim executive director, said Monday.
"From a legal standpoint she's a minor; it's not supposed to be disclosed. It's disclosed and somehow it's supposed to disappear a day later because the law says 'OK, now nobody can put their name out or their picture out anymore?' Well, it's too late, it's already out there."
HIV Edmonton advocates that people disclose their status to their sexual partners. But Williams said the actions of Edmonton police in this case could cause others with HIV to be more secretive about their status to avoid the possible stigma.
Edmonton police did not respond to a request by CBC News for an interview.