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November 29, 2023

Deputy Commissioner appears before Parliament to discuss proposal to change law governing the National DNA Databank

Gregory Smolynec, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s (OPC) Deputy Commissioner, Policy and Promotion, appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs today to discuss Bill S-231, the Increasing the Identification of Criminals Through the Use of DNA Act. He was joined by Lacey Batalov, Director, Government Advisory, and Nadia Sayed, Legal Counsel.

The Bill would expand the circumstances under which DNA samples may be taken from offenders and retained to solve other crimes they may have committed in the past or may commit in the future. It would also allow for familial searching, which involves police using DNA samples to identify near or partial matches in DNA datasets. This can help law enforcement identify suspects who are family members of individuals whose samples are in the DNA data bank through hereditary markers.

In his remarks, Deputy Commissioner Smolynec said the changes raise privacy concerns. The expansion means that virtually all offenders, regardless of the crime, may be required to submit a DNA sample, raising questions about necessity and proportionality.

He also described familial searching as problematic as it turns people into potential suspects not because of what they have done, but simply because of biological relationships. He also expressed concern for vulnerable groups, such as youth, as well as communities that are already over-represented in prisons and law enforcement databases, such as visible minorities and Indigenous people.

Deputy Commissioner Smolynec further raised concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability measures in the Bill.

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