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Canada's high court: Not always a crime to hide HIV status to sex partners

OTTAWA, Canada -- If you wear a condom and have a "low load" of the HIV virus, it is not a crime if you do not tell your sex partner about your status, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today.

However, the court seemed to imply by its ruling that if you are HIV-positive and engage in dangerous behavior with your sex partner, such as not wearing a condom and not disclosing your status and not taking reasonable steps to avoid transmitting the virus, that you could be sued.

Today's ruling clarifies the court's 1998 ruling which said that you could be charged with sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault for failure to disclose HIV status if that is "a significant risk of bodily harm."

By watering down its opinion, the high court cited major advancement in HIV treatment and management in the 21st century.

"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," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote on behalf of the court.

Today's ruling disappointed prosecutors, who wanted the high court to affirm that HIV-positive people should always inform this condition to their sex partners or face charges.

The court acquitted a women of aggravated sexual assault after she had sex with her former spouse, citing that her viral load was undetectable and therefore the man was not exposed to a significant risk of harm.

But the court affirmed four aggravated sexual assault convictions against an HIV-positive man who has sex with four women and girls without wearing a condom, and dismissed a fifth conviction involving him having sex with a woman while wearing a condom. He, too, had a "low load" of HIV virus, according to the court.

Today's ruling is already stirring up controversy in the HIV community, some defending the court and others disappointed that the justices were not doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus.