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Reject HIV-Positive Immigrants:  Canadian Public
Federal government tests the waters for revising screening policy

RESULTS of a government-commissioned public opinion study show that Canadians think potential immigrants should be tested for HIV and rejected should the result be positive.

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Focus groups conducted by Angus Reid across Canada for the federal Ministry of Health found "a strong level of support" for making HIV testing compulsory in Canadian immigration procedures, according to a report published in the Ottawa Citizen today.

It also found that HIV-positive potential immigrants should be rejected even if they were given education regarding transmission.  "Most participants in the focus groups rejected [that] option," the report said.

The dominant sentiment which emerged from the focus groups was that HIV-positive immigrants would add an undue strain to a health care system participants believed was already cash-strapped.

"They are still going to get sick and still going to be a drain on a system that is already overburdened," reported the Citizen of the results.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network criticized the opinions.

"The government does not look enough at the significant contribution often very healthy HIV-positive people can make," Executive Director Ralph Jurgens was quoted as saying.

"Do we in Canada decide we look at costs only, or do we look at other, more broader issues?" he questioned.

Mr. Jurgens went on to say that he that compulsory testing would "heavily stigmatize all prospective immigrants" and "appeal to the deepest prejudices" of people opposed to immigration.

The health screening of potential immigrants is led by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  Applicants outside the country receive a standard medical examination by authorized physicians.  Results are forwarded to the Ministry, and should any flags arise physicians there regularly request further testing.

At present the standard provisional health screening does not include an HIV test.  However, further testing - for anything - remains at the discretion of Ministry physicians.

Mr. Jurgens told the Citizen that "Many immigrants - even those who are asymptomatic and appear healthy - are already being screened for HIV and rejected if they test positive under regulations that prohibit anyone who places an excessive demand on the health system from immigrating."

It is those regulations - for immigration - which are currently under review, in association with the proposed new immigration act.  That bill, C-31 or the "Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," is waiting to pass second reading in the House of Commons.  It has been the subject of three debates since its introduction and first reading on April 6th.

The federal Ministry of Health makes recommendations on Citizenship and Immigration Canada's health screening policy.  The medical branches of the latter were housed in Health Canada prior to the federal public service restructuring initiated by the Kim Campbell government.

Health Canada spokeswoman Margot Geduld told the Citizen the ministry has yet to decide if it will recommend modifications to the health screening policy.

Derik Hodgson, press secretary for Citizenship and Immigration Canada minister Elinor Caplan, similarly said that the ministry is not inclined to adopt mandatory HIV testing, at least not for refugees.

The United States' policy of mandatory testing has been condemned by the United Nations.