Posted on October 20, 2008

‘Landmark’ HIV Case Goes to Trial

Allison Jones, Canadian Press, Oct. 19, 2008

A man facing first-degree murder charges for allegedly spreading the virus that causes AIDS will see his case go before a jury Monday in what’s believed to be the first prosecution of its kind in Canada.

Johnson Aziga, 52, has spent five years in pre-trial custody while cycling through several legal teams.

Two women died after allegedly having unprotected sex with him.

“It’s going to be a landmark case,” Mr. Aziga’s lawyer, Davies Bagambiire, said in an interview.

“This is the first time that a Canadian is prosecuted for alleged murder through the alleged dissemination or transmission of the HIV virus.”

Mr. Aziga, a former research analyst with Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and 11 counts of aggravated sexual assault.

“I look forward to the evidence unfolding so I can shake it up, cross-examine and demonstrate the holes in the evidence that I believe exist,” Mr. Bagambiire said.

Alison Symington, with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said the case is significant but adds the allegations against Mr. Aziga are rare.

“There are 60,000 people living with HIV in Canada,” said Ms. Symington.

“These are very rare cases indeed, but there’s so much attention to them and so much misinformation and panic around them that it really kind of increases stigma and discrimination, which ultimately may be counterproductive.”

The best way to protect the public is to educate them so that HIV-positive feel comfortable disclosing their status to sexual partners, Ms. Symington said.

“Condoms, disclosure: that’s going to prevent transmission. Criminal charges aren’t,” she said.

There has been a notable increase in criminal charges for HIV transmission since about 2000, Symington added.

Clato Mabior, an HIV-positive man in Winnipeg, was sentenced earlier this month to 14 years in prison on six counts of aggravated sexual assault, as well as one count each of invitation to sexual touching and sexual interference.

Mr. Mabior’s trial heard that none of the half-dozen females, ranging in age from 12 to adults, that he had sex with became infected.

Carl Leone was handed an 18-year sentence on April 4 after pleading guilty in Windsor, Ont., to 15 counts of aggravated sexual assault after failing to inform his sexual partners of his HIV status. Five of the 15 women are now HIV positive.

Former Saskatchewan Roughrider Trevis Smith, who is HIV positive, was sentenced Feb. 26, 2007, to 5 1/2 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault. He was found guilty for knowingly exposing two women to the virus that causes AIDS.

Mr. Bagambiire said he believes his client will not be found guilty but, if he is, Mr. Aziga would get double credit for time his five years of pre-trial custody.

That could also be multiplied if Mr. Aziga’s legal team successfully argues that time was spent in poor conditions, Mr. Bagambiire said.

“Other inmates attack him because they stigmatize him because of his HIV status,” he said.

Monday is the fifth trial date to have been set in Mr. Aziga’s case, largely due to adjournments sought by the defence and Mr. Aziga’s firing of three previous legal teams.

Mr. Bagambiire takes exception to characterizing the moves as delays.

“Really we call it fair trial,” he said.

“Justice can’t be done in a hurry. If you do justice in a hurry you end up with miscarriages of justice. Yes, time has passed, but that time has been worth it.”