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The Canadian Bar Association

Gabriel Marrocco and Yann Joly

Immigration

Understanding the dangers of genetic testing in immigration

By Gabriel Marrocco and Yann Joly September 27, 2018 27 September 2018

Understanding the dangers of genetic testing in immigration

Genetic testing is used increasingly in areas that extend well beyond the field of medicine. One of them is immigration. Since the 1990s, Canadian immigration agents have used genetic test results from family reunification applicants to confirm their biological relationships. There have also been recent media reports that Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have used private ancestry genetic testing companies to find additional information pertaining to the ancestry of detained individuals scheduled for deportation. Based on reports from other countries, genetic tests could also be used to determine the precise age of immigrants, or establish if someone is affected by, or more likely to develop, specific diseases that would cause excessive demand on a country’s health services.

What is concerning is that there are few legal constraints on genetic testing in immigration despite the potential for misuse and the associated ethical, legal and social issues.

The regulations and laws applicable to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the CBSA do not specifically address the processing of genetic information. In IRCC’s sector of activity, immigration officers fall back on default provisions on the examination process of foreign nationals, which state that applicants must provide “any relevant information that immigration officers reasonably require”, to guide their use of genetic testing. The only clear limit is found in IRCC’s administrative guidelines for family reunification and citizenship applications. It limits such tests to measures of ‘last resort’. This sort of broad framework leaves too much room for error and arbitrary decision-making, and is not conducive to responsible or efficient use of genetic testing.

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