By Cécile Kazatchkine and Sandra Ka Hon Chu
Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately affected by HIV, representing 10.8 per cent of new HIV infections and 9.1 per cent of people living with HIV in Canada. In Saskatchewan alone, the number of Indigenous people living with HIV is around twice the national average and the highest in Canada and “one of the few places in the industrialized world where people are still dying from AIDS and HIV.”
Lack of access to HIV treatment and care among other complex factors contributes to these alarming rates: in many rural or remote areas, HIV-specific services are simply not available, or the small size of the community creates concerns around confidentiality for those accessing care. Indigenous people in Canada — many of whom are surviving a legacy of colonization and the intergenerational effects of residential schools — continue to experience systemic discrimination and extremely high rates of incarceration. In this context, the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure may be perceived as yet another form of institutionalized violence and discrimination, amplifying the negative impact of the HIV epidemic on Indigenous communities.