Sex infection disclosure, charges draw fire

Ottawa public health officials say police acted without consulting them in releasing a photo and warning about a man alleged to be spreading a sexually transmitted disease.

Ottawa public health officials say police acted without consulting them in releasing a photo and warning about a man alleged to be spreading a sexually transmitted disease.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's associate medical health officer, said her department is equipped to investigate cases of individuals unwilling to disclose their positive HIV status, for example, and has issued orders a number of times.

Ottawa police did not consult her team, however, before deciding to release a picture and medical history of Steven Paul Boone to the news media.

In May, Steven Paul Boone was charged initially with nine counts of aggravated sexual assault. Police later laid additional charges including five other counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of sexual assault and four counts of breach of probation. The initial charges were laid after another man alleged in April that he contracted an infectious disease after sexual contact with Boone in late January and early February.

Police said they released the information to ensure all his sexual partners were informed and got medical care.

Etches said in rare cases, criminal charges may be needed, but investigations into the wilful transmission of an infectious disease should start with consulting health officials.

"We feel public health has effective methods, so we can say don't donate, don't share injection drug equipment with someone else … [and] disclose your status to your partners," said Etches.

Discourages testing

The move by police to release the photo and warning angered members of Ottawa's gay and lesbian community, who said the picture should never have been made public.

Brent Bauer of the Ottawa Gay Mens Wellness Initiative said laying charges and releasing the photo as police did acts to discourage people from getting tested in the first place, potentially leading people to unwittingly infect others.

He said the matter should have been handled by Ottawa's medical health officer Dr. Isra Levy and his department.

"Dr. Levy and Ottawa Public Health have all the resources he needs to quarantine individuals in extreme cases," said Bauer, who was scheduled to petition the Ottawa Police Services Board on the issue on Monday.

"[There is] no reason to involve the heavy hand of the criminal law in what is essentially a public health matter," said Bauer.

An Ottawa police committee will review recommendations from the public said any policy changes that result would be implemented by the end of the year.

Criminal charges have been laid in similar cases across the country.

In 2009, an HIV-positive man, 52-year-old Johnson Aziga of Hamilton, Ont., was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of two of his sex partners in what was considered a precedent-setting decision.

With files from the CBC's Judy Trinh