01 May 2008

May Day, Mayday

Ah, International Workers' Day. Is there anything better? I constructed the lovely Facebook profile picture (yes, the one you see above) and smiled at the news that my friend Andy (I have such trouble calling him Andrew after meeting him as Andy) has been given a lovely honour: a Jiangsu Province May 1st Labour Glory Medal as a Model Worker. (He's teaching English in Nanjing and is quite amused by the thought of being a Model Worker.)

There was something else happening today that was not at all glorious or honourable.

It was going to be the day on which a judge in Longueuil (just to the south of Montréal) passed sentence on a woman recently convicted of sexual assault and aggravated assault. The story is not as clear as we usually like to think when the news tells us about someone being convicted of a crime; it is, in fact, muddy and not at all representative of the system of justice we all thought we had.

A brief recap of the whole story is probably in order. This woman (we'll call her D) is HIV positive. She has a child. A few years ago, at one of her child's soccer games, she met a man (we'll call him S). D and S had an adventure. D didn't disclose her HIV status, but insists that they used a condom. She didn't think it would be a good idea, in the context of someone she met at her child's soccer game and would probably not have another 'adventure' with, to disclose her status.

Next phase. S wants to pursue a relationship with D. D chooses this moment to disclose her status (new context) and S has some trouble dealing with it. After some amount of time, S reconsiders his reaction and comes back to D, again wanting to pursue a relationship with her in the full knowledge of her HIV status. They have a relationship that lasts for several years.

Next phase. S becomes abusive and actually assaults D and her child. D makes a complaint and S is prosecuted for conjugal violence. Here's where justice takes a turn for the worse. In a phenomenon that is becoming disturbingly common, S picks up on the concept that the best defence is an offence. During his trial, S makes a complaint against D: it's all about her not having disclosed her status to him during a one night adventure years ago. D is charged with sexual assault and aggravated assault. S is found guilty, but his lawyer raises the charges against D during representations on sentencing. The Crown prosecutor agrees that S has suffered a terrible injustice and joins the defence in recommending an absolute discharge (not record, no sentence, no conditions). The judge goes with that.

Next phase. D is tried and convicted of sexual assault and aggravated assault. The judge takes pains to point out that neither of the parties is credible as a witness, so he can't believe that a condom was worn, but he sees how this prosecution is probably based on feelings of revenge on the part of S. Today was going to be the sentencing. The judge, faced with a Crown prosecutor insisting on jail time and a defence insisting on nothing less than an absolute discharge, has decided to take more time, until 8 July, before deciding on the sentence.

Today, while that was unfolding in a courtroom in Longueuil, many of us were demonstrating on the streets of Montréal. There were 30-40 of us, marching from the Palais de Justice in Montréal (where the Québec Minister of Justice's offices are located) to a nondescript building in Montréal that houses the offices of the Minister of Health, chanting some slogans that might have been better conceived in terms of their rhythmic qualities and attracting some media and public attention, but not tons. Our point was to demonstrate not only the injustice of what is happening to D, but also the two-faced approach of the authorities: public health speaks of prevention as a 'shared responsibility' while justice pins the blame on the positive person. We got no official response.

This whole situation makes me really angry. What happened to a couple of decades of education of the justice system with respect to conjugal violence? How can D's HIV status ever justify her being assaulted by S? And four years later?! This tells me that every HIV+ person can be held hostage to a decision not to disclose his or her status — kind of understandable if you consider the stigma and discrimination that almost always follow that disclosure — forever. Four years of a consensual relationship in the knowledge of that HIV status doesn't erase one fearful decision to not disclose that pre-dates the relationship.

An issue that should be dealt with by public health is being criminalized. HIV positive people are being told to choose between discrimination and jail.

Hence the Mayday.

1 comment:

madamerouge said...

An issue that should be dealt with by public health is being criminalized.