The federal government has revoked a controversial policy that required immigration applicants or refugees to disclose an HIV diagnosis to the person who was sponsoring them to Canada.
The immigration department’s move to put an end to the automatic partner notification policy was hailed by advocates who have criticized the rule, saying it discriminated against people living with HIV and failed to reflect medical advancements in treating the once-deadly virus.
On Friday, officials posted an update online noting the department would “discontinue” the program, days after the Star published a story about three advocacy groups demanding Ottawa rescind the policy. The change took effect immediately.
All permanent resident applicants are still required to undergo an HIV test as part of their medical screening. Being HIV positive does not make someone inadmissible due to a formal public health concern, but it can still lead to inadmissibility if the person’s anticipated health care exceeds a set threshold.
The notification policy has been in place since 2003 as a public health measure to stop the spread of HIV, which, if untreated, can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS, a disease that has killed millions.
Modern medical treatment has transformed the virus into a manageable condition, and advocates say that, after two decades, the “out-of-date and discriminatory” policy needed to go.
This policy was unique to HIV-positive applicants; there was no similar requirement for other health conditions. The rule also only applied to sponsored family members and refugees, not to visitors, international students, temporary foreign workers or those applying for permanent residence under the economic class.
“Congratulations to the Immigration Minister for doing the right thing,” said lawyer Michael Battista, who had represented immigration applicants caught in this situation, which further caused delays in processing their applications due to the long wait for a in-person interview that was subsequently required.
“The swift termination of this policy has been a tremendous relief for our clients. The policy added to their stress and sense of being stigmatized. It also achieved no purpose, because most sponsors were fully aware of their partners’ HIV status.”
In June, three groups wrote to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and Marci Ien, the minister for women and gender equality and youth, demanding the policy be reconsidered. The signatories to the letter included the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario (HALCO), the HIV Legal Network and the Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA).
“Canada has long claimed to be a leader on the world stage when it comes to both HIV and human rights. This is certainly a positive step in that direction,” said the HIV Legal Network in a statement to the Star.
The network, however, said the medical inadmissibility provision will continue to be a barrier for applicants with medical needs by reducing them to the cost of their health care.