Social Uses of DNA Information in the Policy Making Process: Analysis of Two DNA Identification Bills

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University of Ottawa




This report focuses on the uses of DNA in the criminal justice system, and on an understanding of the social tensions involved, through a comparative analysis of the submissions from various interest groups, tabled before Parliament in the legislative process leading to the promulgation of two DNA bills (C-3 and C-13). The first of these bills allowed for the creation of a national DNA database and the second bill added to the list of offences for which obtaining DNA samples is allowed.

The authors point to the three ways the topic of DNA is broached in the literature concerning its use in the criminal justice system. DNA is treated either as: a chemical substance to be treated forensically; an investigation tool to be used strategically; or as a sociological manifestation of how modern cultures are redefining the relationship between science and the law.

Analysis of the reports submitted by the groups and associations involved in the study of Bill C-3, which led to the creation of Canada’s national DNA database, shows that the various political actors are in general agreement when it comes to the usefulness of creating a genetic database. However, they are divided or disagree on at least five major issues: the usefulness of DNA within the criminal justice system; the similarity between fingerprints and genetic prints; the scope of discretionary power a judge should have in ordering the taking of a sample; the retroactivity of samples; and the need to conserve DNA samples.

When Bill C-13 proposed the expansion of the existing genetic print system in 2005, six major issues arose out of the various reports and presentations. Certain issues were already present in past debates while others were new: the expansion of the primary and secondary offences lists and related criteria; the point in time when a DNA sample should be taken; the scope of the law’s retroactivity; the discretionary power of judges in ordering the taking of a sample; the treatment of persons found not criminally responsible; and the conservation of samples.

The debates surrounding these bills have led to concrete results. Not only have the debates influenced the legal texts, they have given rise to and feed into powerful symbols. Analysis reveals two inter-related results: 1) offenders are being transformed into criminal monsters; 2) the objectives of the penal system are being altered – the system no longer searches for justice but rather for truth. The combined effect tends to reinforce the notion that procedural guarantees are obstacles to efficient crime fighting.

Finally, the authors feel that debate is required to answer such questions as: What is the efficiency of the penal system? How do you measure its efficiency? Efficiency for whom?

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OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

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