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A 35-year-old HIV-positive soccer coach pleaded not guilty to six counts of aggravated assault yesterday as his lawyer tried to screen jurors for racial bias.

Adrien Nduwayo calmly took notes during the trial, which began yesterday and will continue for the next three weeks.

Mr. Nduwayo is expected to argue that his sexual encounters with several B.C. women in the past four years were consensual, and that he wore condoms. Police, who arrested Mr. Nduwayo after a search last year, say he failed to take adequate steps to protect his partners against the deadly virus that causes AIDS.

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Three of the women are said to have contracted HIV. It's anticipated that several complainants will testify, though the court heard that one may be unable to attend because of complications relating to a pregnancy.

Because similar cases have been in the public eye of late -- including charges laid last month in Surrey, B.C., against CFL linebacker Trevis Smith -- the court tried to vet jurors carefully for possible bias yesterday.

"Would your ability to judge the evidence without bias or prejudice be affected by the fact that Mr. Nduwayo is an African man, is HIV-positive and is accused of assaulting women who are predominantly Caucasian?" Mr. Justice John Truscott asked possible jurors yesterday.

Outside court, Mr. Nduwayo's lawyer explained that he wanted the judge to ask that question because "the whole issue has come to the forefront recently." Lawyer Paul McMurray said that aggravated-assault cases involving HIV infection are not new, and have been the subject of three Supreme Court cases.

In addition to the cases of Mr. Nduwayo and Mr. Smith, a Hamilton judge recently ruled Johnson Aziga, 49, will stand trial for murder for allegedly transmitting HIV.

At the heart of all the cases is what role the state has in regulating the behaviour that goes on in the bedrooms of the nation.

"The issue is whether Mr. Nduwayo is under a legal obligation to disclose his HIV status," Mr. McMurray said.

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Another point of contention will be whether Mr. Nduwayo used condoms to protect his partners. "That will be an issue, whether he did or didn't," Mr. McMurray said.

Mr. Nduwayo, who has been in jail since his arrest last year, also faces a sexual-assault charge unrelated to his HIV-positive status.

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