updated 10/20/2008 6:59:26 PM ET 2008-10-20T22:59:26

A Canadian court started proceedings Monday in the country's first-ever first-degree murder trial involving the alleged sexual transmission of the HIV virus.

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Lawyers told the court that Johnson Aziga, 52, first learned he was HIV positive in 1997, but continued to have unprotected sex without disclosing his condition to his partners. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, can cause AIDS, and the associated immune system failure can make victims susceptible to infections and other diseases.

Aziga faces two counts of first-degree murder because two of his girlfriends died of what lawyers said were HIV-related cancers.

"One may immediately think of a violent rape scenario," prosecutor Tim Power told the three-woman, nine-man jury. "That is not what this case is all about."

Rather, Power said in his opening statement, Aziga put his partners at risk of serious bodily harm without their knowing, even having sex with one woman on the morning of his arrest in August 2003.

Johnson was also accused of having unprotected sex with at least 11 women without disclosing his HIV-positive health status.

While there have been several criminal prosecutions in Canada and the U.S. related to the willful spread of HIV, this is the first time someone has been charged with lethally infecting partners, according to the defense lawyers.

"It's going to be a landmark case," Aziga's lawyer, Davies Bagambiire, said. "This is the first time that a Canadian is prosecuted for alleged murder through the alleged dissemination or transmission of the HIV virus."

Power told the court that evidence will show Aziga, an immigrant from Uganda, had several counseling sessions on the risks of transmission and two public health orders that he inform partners about his status and use condoms during sex, but he did not do so.

In addition, when some of the women asked him directly — including one who initially used condoms with him — if he had the human immunodeficiency virus, he said "no."

One woman, a colleague of Aziga's who had a relationship with him in the summer of 2001, videotaped a statement just before her death in December 2003 that is to be played as evidence. A second deceased woman recorded a statement prior to her death.

Aziga formerly worked at Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General.

The United Nations AIDS program and AIDS activists oppose criminal prosecutions, arguing they unfairly stigmatize HIV carriers and rely on faulty assumptions about the nature of the virus's transmission and risks.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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