The Canada Border Services Agency recently has been collecting the DNA of immigrants and using a genealogy DNA website to find and contact their distant relatives and establish their nationality.
Border security has become a political hot potato with the arrival on foot from the United States of 30,000 asylum seekers since January 2017, putting strains on Canada’s refugee system and provoking a public backlash. Most of the refugees being refused entry are not U.S. citizens escaping the political turmoil south of the Canadian-U.S. border. Instead, most are originally from other countries, often ones that do not have extensive records of their own citizens’ births or other vital statistics.
Canada announced last week it was expanding the collection of biometrics such as fingerprints and photos for refugee claimants, individuals facing extradition, and foreign nationals seeking a temporary resident visa, work permit, or study permit. CBSA claims it always obtains consent from the individual before submitting their DNA to these websites.
However, legal experts point out that such testing and detention may be illegal. Toronto immigration lawyer Jared Will, who represents several people who had their DNA analyzed in order to establish their nationality, says, “In my experience, the CBSA has made these requests to detainees who are then accused of noncooperation with removal efforts if they decline, and that noncooperation is then invoked as a justification for continued and prolonged detention.”
In addition, the data gleaned from ancestry sites, while personally fulfilling for some, is ineffective and inaccurate in the practice of deportation. Using DNA to enact deportation fails on a number of levels. A person’s genetics are not an accurate indicator of nationality. For refugee claimants especially, it can be terribly ineffective. For example, a child born in Sweden to Somali refugees may have never been within Somalia’s borders. Their DNA would certainly not contain their Swedish connection. In this way DNA may reveal ancestry but cannot justify deportation. In short, DNA testing provides a flimsy basis to remove someone from a country while depriving them of their human rights.
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