Judge to be investigated over treatment of HIV+ witness

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The Ontario Judicial Council has received complaints from HIV advocacy groups in Canada after a judge demanded that a witness with the virus wore a mask when giving evidence.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic are calling for an investigation into Barrie judge Jon-Jo Douglas’ conduct on November 23rd last year.

When a witness who has Hepatitis C and is HIV-positive took the stand, Judge Douglas told the Crown counsel:

“I mean, he speaks within two feet of me with two serious infectious diseases.

“Either you mask your witness and/or move us to another courtroom or we do not proceed.”

Crown lawyer Karen McCleave’s said there was no need for such precautions as an exchange of bodily fluids would be required for either hepatitis or HIV to be passed on.

Judge Douglas contradicted her.

“The HIV virus will live in a dried state for year after year after year and only needs moisture to reactivate itself,” he said.

AIDS activists are concerned not just that the judge appears ignorant but that his superiors have not taken stronger action against him.

The Crown appealed, asking for a mistrial on the grounds that the witnesses were not properly treated.

The Superior Court of Justice dismissed the request and said a judge had the “jurisdictional right to conduct safety precautions in the courtroom.”

Ontario’s Criminal Lawyers Association has also lodged a complaint about the judge’s behaviour.

The original trail was adjourned while the judge’s concerns were addressed and will reconvene next month.