Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, April 6, 2009
When he wasn’t busy fornicating them to death, Johnson Aziga must have hated women.
Alternatively, the former Ontario civil servant was entirely indifferent to females, without feeling or conscience as he introduced a silent killer–cloaked in lust–into their lives.
Dishonest and duplicitous, thinking only of his immediate sexual gratification, the 52-year-old knowingly and intentionally exposed his unsuspecting lovers to the HIV virus right up until the morning of his arrest on Aug. 30, 2003.
He cut a wide swath with his penis.
On Saturday, after deliberating for three days, a Hamilton jury found Aziga guilty on two counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault.
It was a historic verdict: The first time in Canada–or anywhere in the world, as far as the prosecution is aware–that a criminal case involving the reckless transmission of HIV has resulted in a murder conviction.
Deliberate, without prophylactic protection, done in full awareness that infection of others might result, withholding his HIV-positive status and repeatedly denying his condition to sexual partners who inquired.
Two of those women subsequently died from AIDS-related lymphoma, their videotaped testimony–given shortly before they passed away–played for the jury.
Five other women have tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Four more women have tested negative. But it’s still aggravated sexual assault because, as the Crown successfully argued, valid consent cannot be given when information about a partner’s diagnosed HIV-positive status has been withheld.
There is an obligation, legally and morally, to disclose.
Aziga did not tell and, further, denied it when directly quizzed by girlfriends who were persuaded to cease using condoms.
All the while, Aziga was receiving antiretroviral therapy to control the advance of his illness. Early detection is crucial for treatment of HIV, modern drugs now extremely effective as intervention, such that the virus is no longer a looming death sentence.
Aziga never gave his many lovers that benefit. He, however, appears perfectly healthy, continuing his drug regimen through the nearly six years thus far spent in custody.
Now, he will likely die in prison: First-degree murder means a mandatory life sentence, with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
The trial took five years to come to court, Aziga firing several lawyers along the way, and six months to conclude. Aziga never did take the stand in his own defence. But he’d hardly been a mute defendant. Superior Court Justice Thomas Lofchik allowed the separated father of three to indulge in oratory during earlier phases of the judicial proceeding, which could not be reported at the time.
In late 2006, Aziga–who often scoured legal textbooks in court–mounted his own arguments in opposition to the criminalizing of HIV transmission.
“This is an issue in which it takes two to tango, the sex issue,” he expounded. “Somebody may be . . . fraudulent and so mean, but it takes two. It’s unfortunate, some people are being reported dead.
As I said, this is a statement of frustration, not necessarily of anger, especially when you see the exercise that is going on. When we are talking about somebody dying, trying to see whether it should be accepted (as evidence) or not.”
Shockingly, there are some AIDS activists who support the view that HIV-positive individuals have no obligation to reveal their status to sexual partners; that everyone is responsible for taking their own precautions. One school of thought contends that criminalizing even reckless behaviour will discourage people from being tested for HIV as a pre-emptive legal defence: They didn’t know they were infected, so can’t be held accountable for passing on the virus.
Aziga was diagnosed with HIV in 1996. He received counselling from medical staff on both safe sex practices and his legal obligation to disclose positive status to sexual partners. Fully educated about the virus, Aziga nevertheless continued his reckless behaviour before and after separating from his wife. Twice he was issued with orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to abstain from sex involving penile penetration unless he disclosed his HIV and wore a latex condom “from onset of erection.”
Following his arrest–his photo circulated in the media–several other women came forward to lodge complaints with police. In the end, there were 13 complainants, though two were dropped en route to trial.
The Crown presented evidence that all the women contracted an HIV strain from a shared source, a strain rare in North America but common in areas of Africa. Aziga hails from Uganda.
He liked his women white, plain, even homely and probably lonely. They were co-workers, single-mom neighbours and ladies picked up in bars.
Of course, to make love is not necessarily to like and clearly not to give a damn.