The Current State of the Epidemic:
Why We Need to Step Up Our Efforts

4. Stigma and discrimination continue to threaten people with HIV and communities at risk

Although Canadians are less fearful of AIDS than they were in the 1980s and more accepting of people with HIV, stigma and discrimination persist. The stigma associated with HIV continues to make it different from most other diseases. For example, in a recent survey, almost 30% of Canadians said they would not be comfortable working in an office with someone with HIV, and 43% of parents said they would be uncomfortable having their child attend school where one of the students had HIV.15

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According to a recent report on HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in North America has been profoundly influenced by attitudes toward gay and bisexual men and toward people who use drugs -- two groups of people who were highly stigmatized before the HIV epidemic. The report cites a number of studies from North America and Europe that found that a minority of the population are more likely to blame people and less ready to help them if they became infected through homosexual sex or drug use.16

Canada does not have comprehensive data on HIV-related discrimination, but we do have some information that gives us some understanding of the extent of the problem. For example:

  • in 1988-89, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association received reports of 83 cases of discrimination against people with HIV (nine related to housing, 32 related to employment, 14 related to access to health services, and 8 related to access to public services). The Association believed these cases represented only a portion of actual incidents.17
  • in 2000, findings of a needs assessment of people with HIV/AIDS in New Brunswick revealed that of the 50 study participants, 86% feared discrimination because of their HIV status, and 66% experienced incidents of HIV-related discrimination (an increase from 33% in 1992). Many experiences of discrimination occurred in public settings (e.g., workplaces and public services).18

People with HIV who are part of a specific ethnic or cultural community -- such as gay men, Agma and discboriginal people and people from countries where HIV is endemic -- often experience stirimination from within their community. This has implications for both the person with HIV and for the community: the person becomes highly isolated and the community is less able to prevent the spread of HIV or to provide support for those who are ill.19

The stigma associated with HIV isolates people who are infected and affects their quality of life. It can make people who are at risk of HIV/AIDS less willing to be tested or to seek treatment.20 For people who belong to marginalized groups -- such as gay men, people who use injection drugs, Aboriginal people, people from countries where HIV is endemic and sex workers -- the stigma associated with HIV is compounded by other forms of discrimination, including homophobia, racism, gender inequality and negative attitudes toward drug use and sex workers.

Stigma can lead to violations of the human rights of people living with HIV, including unlawful discrimination in housing, employment and health and social services. For example, in a survey of 34 people with HIV in Alberta, almost a third reported being treated unfairly by employers or co-workers as a result of their HIV status. Their jobs were terminated, they were asked to quit orTheir hours were severely reduced.21

Stigma can also lead to infection. For example, the HIV epidemic among Aboriginal people in Canada is compounded by racism, both past and present: forced assimilation, residential schooling and loss of culture have contributed to poverty, unemployment, multigenerational violence and substance abuse, all of which make Aboriginal people -- particularly Aboriginal women and two-spirited people -- more vulnerable to HIV.


EKOS Research Associates. HIV/AIDS -- An Attitudinal Survey. March 2003.

de Bruyn T. A Plan of Action for Canada to Reduce HIV/AIDS-Related Stigma and Discrimination. Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. 2004.

de Bruyn T. HIV/AIDS and Discrimination: A Discussion Paper. Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Canadian AIDS Society. 1998.

Olivier C. HIV-Related Discrimination Increasing in New Brunswick. Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy & Law Newsletter. Vol. 5, No 2/3, Summer 2000.

de Bruyn T. HIV/AIDS and Discrimination: A Discussion Paper. Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Canadian AIDS Society. 1998.

Roth K. Human Rights and the AIDS Crisis: the Debate Over Resources. Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy & Law Review. 2000; Vol. 5, No 4: 93-98.

AIDS Calgary. Human Rights Project. 2003.

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