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OHRC statement on protecting and upholding human rights during the “monkeypox” outbreak

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June 20, 2022

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As the world grapples with the ongoing “monkeypox”[i] outbreak, several very concerning human rights issues have been exposed.

The HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) and other organizations have raised serious concerns about homophobia, stigma and discrimination experienced by members of the LGBTQ2S+ community relating to the “monkeypox” outbreak. There have been reports of homophobic comments on social media and other online forums. Additionally, continued reference to the virus being an “African virus,” with media depictions of African patients with the disease, is discriminatory and stigmatizing.

Discriminatory action against any persons or communities because of an association with the “monkeypox” virus, perceived or otherwise, is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code. The “monkeypox” virus is not isolated to people of any particular sexual orientation, gender identity, race or place of origin.

We must heed the lessons from HIV/AIDS, SARS and COVID-19. Stigmatization, discrimination and harassment do not make the public safer. Instead, they isolate certain groups of people, entrench stereotypes and spread fear. That fear can prevent people from seeking urgently needed medical care and also prevent public health officials from tracking the spread of a virus.

The OHRC encourages everyone to take precautions related to the “monkeypox” virus based on the most current advice from public health officials. Reactions based on stereotypes must not replace responsible actions based on evidence.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health is working collaboratively with Public Health Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and local public health units to continue to monitor for cases in Ontario. To get up-to-date advice and learn more about the “monkeypox” virus, visit Public Heath Ontario’s website.


[i] The World Health Organization has announced they will be changing the name of the virus to minimize stigma and racism. Numerous scientists and health researchers have also called for a name change.