Andrew Aitchison under licence by Creative Commons
March 16, 2018
World-renowned HIV activist Justice Edwin Cameron speaks at UCalgary in 2018
“I am not a medical expert. I am not a scientist or a doctor. But if we are to give people with HIV and AIDS greater involvement in this epidemic, then we must all have a voice.” – Justice Edwin Cameron.
Internationally renowned human rights advocate and HIV activist Justice Edwin Cameron addressed the Canadian legal saga of Clato Mabior through the lens of AIDS and HIV stigmatization when he visited Calgary on March 20, 2018.
Cameron, an openly gay jurist of South Africa’s Constitutional Court and that nation’s first senior official to announce he is living with HIV, offered Calgarians a unique opportunity when he delivered an address at the University of Calgary’s Foothills Campus.
“It is rare, if not unheard of, for a judge from a top court of one nation to enter another nation to criticize a unanimous decision of the host country’s highest court,” says Juliet Guichon, an assistant professor in Community Health Sciences and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.
Justice Cameron discussed the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, R. V. Mabior, which imposes a legal duty on those living with HIV to disclose their status to partners unless they have a low viral load and use a condom. The decision was decried by many physicians and researchers who said it did not consider medical evidence, and further stigmatized people living with HIV.
Mabior was sentenced in 2008 to 14 years for not disclosing his status before having unprotected sex with multiple women. He was later deported to his native Sudan. None of his partners contracted HIV.
Once hailed by Nelson Mandela as “one of South Africa’s new heroes,” Cameron rose from a prominent human rights lawyer during apartheid, to South Africa’s highest court.
“Justice Cameron’s moral courage is legendary,” says Guichon. “He called upon certain judges in the apartheid era to resign.”
Cameron, whose best-selling memoir, Witness To AIDS, won South Africa’s premier literary award for non-fiction, has also been a powerful ally in the fight for LGBTQ rights. He was instrumental in that country prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and a key figure in the pursuit of equal access to anti-retroviral treatment, drugs that saved his own life.
“Here I had my life given back to me. How could I keep quiet?” he once told the New York Times.
His talk, Stigma and the Role of the Courts: The Disquieting Case of AIDS, presented by The Honourable Mr. Justice Michael O’Byrne Lecture on Law, Medicine and Ethics, and supported by the O’Brien Institute, preceded a question-and-answer session moderated by Hon. John C. (Jack) Major, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justice Cameron argued that HIV infection is uniquely stigmatized and that the Mabior judgment is yet another example of stigmatization, particularly in an era of effective treatment of HIV that brings viral loads to undetectable levels.