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Supreme Court Holds Failure To Disclose HIV Status Can Still Vitiate Sexual Consent In Canada

In 1998 the Supreme Court of Canada held that failure to disclose HIV positive status could vitiate consent making otherwise consensual sexual encounters criminal in nature and further exposing the non-disclosing party to civil suits for damages for sexual assault.  This reasoning has been controversial over the years and the Supreme Court of Canada revisited the issue in reasons for judgement released today.
In today’s case (R v. Mabior) Chief Justice McLachlin held that failure to disclose can still vitiate consent but not in all circumstances adding a “significant risk” factor to the analysis.  The Court provided the following reasons:
[104]                     To summarize, to obtain a conviction under ss. 265(3)(c) and 273, the Crown must show that the complainant’s consent to sexual intercourse was vitiated by the accused’s fraud as to his HIV status.  Failure to disclose (the dishonest act) amounts to fraud where the complainant would not have consented had he or she known the accused was HIV-positive, and where sexual contact poses a significant risk of or causes actual serious bodily harm (deprivation).  A significant risk of serious bodily harm is established by a realistic possibility of transmission of HIV.  On the evidence before us, a realistic possibility of transmission is negated by evidence that the accused’s viral load was low at the time of intercourse and that condom protection was used.  However, the general proposition that a low viral load combined with condom use negates a realistic possibility of transmission of HIV does not preclude the common law from adapting to future advances in treatment and to circumstances where risk factors other than those considered in the present case are at play.

bc injury law, consent, R v. Mabior

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