A 29-year-old Ottawa man with HIV has been arrested and charged with nine counts of aggravated sexual assault after another man contacted police about a sexually transmitted infectious disease he contracted, police said.
In an effort to uncover other potential victims, Ottawa police took the unusual step of releasing a photo of Steven Paul Boone, who was charged Thursday and also appeared in court that day, police said.
Boone remains in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, and is next scheduled to appear in court on Monday via video link.
He is also wanted by Waterloo Regional Police on a warrant issued this week for the same offence and a similar set of circumstances, said Ottawa police acting Insp. John McGetrick on Friday.
An investigation began April 30 after an Ottawa man told police he contracted the disease from Boone sometime between late January and early February this year.
The 18-year-old victim told the Citizen by phone Friday night that he had unprotected sex with Boone about nine times after arranging to meet on a gay dating website.
He said that every time they had sex, he asked Boone if he was HIV-positive, and that every time, Boone said no.
A little later on, a mutual friend of the 18-year-old -- who was 17 at the time -- and Boone found out the two were seeing each other, and advised him to get tested for HIV. Then, the victim said, Boone's roommate told him Boone was HIV-positive.
The next week, in mid-February, he got tested and told Boone he did so.
"Oh, (Boone) cried," he said. "He's like, 'I'm sorry, I was scared,' ... and then that just got me angrier."
The victim said Boone never admitted to anything, but kept apologizing. "It was very cyclical, that conversation."
Asked what Boone was scared of, the 18-year-old said Boone confessed he thought he wouldn't see him anymore.
A short time later, he
got a preliminary HIV-positive result from the test, but didn't tell Boone. While he waited another three months for an official result, he said he heard about more people Boone had unprotected sex with.
"I had to resolve myself, firstly, to the fact that I was HIV-positive, and then contemplated it, found out that he had possibly infected other people, and then I said, 'This is enough. I'm not going to let him do this anymore.' "
After finding out two weeks ago that he was officially HIV-positive, he went to police, still without telling Boone the results of his test. Now, the 18-year-old said he plans to allow the justice system to take its course.
His friends are trying to keep him upbeat, and while he's told his mother, brother and stepfather about his condition, his father doesn't yet know.
"There's nothing really else I can do. ... I did all I can do by going to police," he said.
Meanwhile, Ottawa's gay community was buzzing with the news of the charges Friday evening, which have some fearing the case and ensuing media uproar will do more to stifle HIV-AIDS education and awareness than help it.
The controversy centres around the criminalization of HIV-AIDS transmission -- a hot-button issue in gay and straight communities in Canada, especially after a historic 2009 ruling found a Hamilton, Ont., man, Johnson Aziga, guilty of first-degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault in the deaths of two women he failed to tell he was HIV-positive.
Ottawan Michael Burtch said the city's gay community has diverse opinions on the issue, but that for his part, he doesn't believe in transmission criminalization.
Burtch, 27, contracted HIV himself after engaging in unprotected sex five years ago, but accepted the role he played in his own fate.
Since then, he has worked actively to fight transmission criminalization.
"The problem with (it) is that people seem to think it's going to protect them from contracting HIV, and that's just simply not the case."
Burtch said he has known Boone for several months, and while he wouldn't name the disease, said he knew Boone had an STD before news of the charges broke on Friday.
"I don't believe he's the type of person who would set out to intentionally spread any disease," he said, describing Boone as fun, kind and sweet.
Burtch said the saddest thing about cases such as Boone's is that it often discourages people in the gay community from getting tested. "Who wants the responsibility of being HIV-positive and being branded a criminal?"
Burtch said everyone needs to take responsibility when it comes to safe sex, and that it takes two to tango.
Claudia Van den Heuvel, executive director of Pink Triangle Services (PTS), said the case is a rare, unfortunate and highly sensitive one.
"I think all any community can do is to encourage regular testing," she said, "and to work on ways to decrease stigma so that people are encouraged and comfortable to disclose their status or disclose if they have an STI (sexually transmitted infection) before they engage in sex."
Burtch said the plastering of Boone's face in television newscasts and media websites is a shame, but Ottawa police's McGetrick said the measure was necessary.
"We're very concerned about the possibility that he's been involved, potentially, with multiple other people, and it's critical that they seek proper medical attention," he said.
McGetrick said there is no estimate of the number of potential victims, but that police are "very confident in saying multiple, and it's extremely concerning."
Anyone who has had sexual contact with Boone is asked to contact the Ottawa police sexual assault/child abuse unit at 613-236-1222, ext. 5944, or Crime Stoppers at 613-233-8477 (TIPS) -- toll-free at 1-800-222-8477.
They are also urged to seek testing through their own health-care provider, or through Ottawa Public Health (which offers free and anonymous testing) at 613-580-6744.