Keeping with the spirit of [Ontario Human Rights] Code, any health protection and promotion policies should be introduced in a manner that respects the individual’s privacy. Treating persons with HIV-related illness in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner that is not supported by current medical or scientific knowledge may be a violation of the Code.1
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, treating anyone unfairly due to race, disability, place of origin, or sexual orientation is wrong. Discrimination includes denying someone an opportunity – intentionally or unintentionally – based on their HIV status, for example.
Unfair treatment can include not respecting a person’s privacy. An organization that works with women will have better success if it is clear and upfront that privacy is respected. It also needs to make sure that this right is protected. The two things – informing and protecting – are important to build women’s confidence and sense of control. They will also add to an environment where people feel comfortable opening up as much as they would like to.
People have the right to keep information to themselves.
A formal confidentiality policy is wise to have. For example, ACT (AIDS Committee of Toronto) requires that employees, volunteers, students, board members and others sign a confidentiality statement.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission stresses that a “maximum degree of privacy and confidentiality” must occur with medical information. “This applies in all situations and circumstances including hospitals, health clinics, insurance company, records, employee’s files, etc.”2 Any sharing of such personal information should only happen if the individual concerned has signed a disclosure / release of information form.
What is confidentiality?
- Confidentiality is a legal, professional and moral responsibility.
- A person’s medical history is private.
- Information that connects someone’s identity to a diagnosis is confidential.
- The right to privacy extends to a client’s family, friends, community and network.
What is confidential information?
- personal identity
- diagnosis or medical condition
- family relations
- sexual orientation
- phone number or address
Use great care when dealing with anything that identifies a person, or with anything that includes details about an individual’s situation. General statements that don’t reveal these kinds of details can avoid the problem.
What else does the Ontario Human Rights Code protect?
Ontario’s Human Rights Code protects people from discrimination, stereotypes and stigma in a number of areas, including housing, services, employment and health.
Limiting the freedom of movement of people living with chronic illnesses, including HIV, is a violation of human rights.
- The code spells out that it “is public policy in Ontario to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination that is contrary to the law.”3
- Ontario human rights aspires to create “a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person.”4
All women must be provided meaningful equal opportunities. A woman living with HIV might need to leave work for doctors’ appointments more often than a woman who is not living with HIV. She is protected under the province’s human rights code.
It is important to remember that each woman has the right to be treated fairly and given the same opportunities, regardless of whether she is living with HIV or not.
1Policy on HIV/AIDS-related discrimination, Ontario Human Rights Commission, November 1996 / December 2006
3Ontario Human Rights Code