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Unlocking HIV Documentary (Trailer)

A Hamilton based Media Arts Project looking at the criminalization of HIV

Published on Nov 3, 2013 - In Canada, people living with HIV can be charged with a criminal offense, if they do not disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners before they engage in physical contact. Canada is now the number 2 country in the world for incarcerating people living with HIV on charges related to the transmission and exposure of the virus.

There are now at least 54 people in jail as a result of the Canadian judicial system's war against people living with HIV. The United Nations and public health experts around the world acknowledge that the criminalization of HIV exposure and transmission is poor public health policy and only serves to fuel HIV. Despite this, our country has the shameful record of being only second to the United States in criminalizing people living with HIV.

The subject matter of this project is of particular relevance to Hamilton. On April 4, 2009, Johnson Aziga, a Ugandan-born Canadian man living in Hamilton, became the first person to be charged and convicted of first-degree murder in Canada for spreading HIV that resulted in the death of two women. Aziga was sentenced by a Hamilton Superior Court jury, to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years, the mandatory sentence in Canada for a conviction of first-degree murder.

The implications of this case four years later are still felt by people living with HIV and the local community-based HIV/AIDS organization in the Hamilton, Halton, Haldimand, Norfolk and Brant regions. The local media ran several sensationalist articles during the time of Aziga's arrest until his conviction. Recently, the Hamilton Spectator ran a headline stating that fellow inmates refuse to eat food prepared by Aziga (prison cook) for fear that he might "spit" in the food; therefore, transmitting the disease.

The decision to try Aziga was criticized by Richard Elliott, deputy director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, who argued the decision may lead to a "dominant impression out there of people living with HIV as potential criminals, which is not an accurate or fair representation."

The Facing +Disclosure project will link four practicing media artists with four people living with HIV that are connected with The AIDS Network and from diverse communities in a collaborative experience. Through the ongoing discourse between the community-based HIV/AIDS organization, the people living with HIV (PHAs) and the artists reinforces the collaborative nature of the project. The collaboration will explore the challenges of HIV disclosure law for people living with HIV and for the community at large. Each pair, (one artist and one PHA) will collaboratively produce an independent video that will be 2 to 5 minutes in length, responding to the issues from a personal artistic perspective. As well as exploring the stigmatization and criminalization of the illness and the impact on both the community participant and the artist, the Facing +Disclosure project will advance the understanding and practice of independent community media arts.

The HIV community in Hamilton is a diverse community, consisting of gay men (young and old), women, people who inject drugs, sex workers, people from the African, Caribbean and Black communities and people from countries where HIV is endemic. Each individual within these populations have their own framework for understanding, coping and acting on the challenges that they face.

The four media artists involved are Nicholas Flood, Toronto, Richard Fung, Toronto, John Caffery, Toronto/Hamilton, and Thea Faulds, Hamilton. The artists involved are equally representative of diverse communities, age, experience levels and cultural backgrounds. All of them come from a variety of institutions and all of them have some form of direct personal connection with the HIV epidemic.

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