Coronavirus: Can you be held criminally liable for spreading it? Here’s what the law says

While there is no official legislation, the Canadian government said it is possible that a person may be held criminally liable for knowingly spreading COVID-19.

In a statement to Global News, Department of Justice Canada said that Criminal Code offences of criminal negligence causing death or criminal negligence causing bodily harm could apply, if the situation involves a person who knows they have COVID-19 intentionally acting to spread the virus to others and one or more of those other people suffers bodily harm or death as a result.

Criminal negligence includes doing anything that shows a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

In their statement, the Department of Justice specified that a person’s behaviour would have to be differ “substantially” from typical behaviour of a reasonable person acting in those circumstances.

Whether charges should be laid in a particular situation, though, is up to the independent discretion of the relevant police and Crown prosecutors, they said.

“The potential for criminal liability is highly fact-specific,” they added.

Not all diseases are regulated by criminal law, as the stigma presented by that would become an issue. COVID-19 is new, and therefore not specifically regulated — similar to the way most viruses, like the common cold or flu, are not regulated.

For specific diseases, there are criminal laws. In the case of HIV, for example, a person who poses a “realistic possibility of transmission” is legally required under Canadian law to disclose that they tested positive prior to engaging in behaviour that could spread the contagion.

A person who does not disclose can be criminally charged under a wide range of offences, including murder and sexual assault, as criminal liability arises in that context because the courts have found that there is a lack of consent to sexual activity with disclosure.

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