Canada’s high court upholds law targeting genetic discrimination

Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal law that criminalizes forced DNA testing or revealing those results in order for an individual to buy services like insurance.

In a 5-4 decision, the country’s high court overturned an appellate ruling in Quebec, which had held that provinces, not the federal government, had jurisdiction on such matters in criminal law.

The Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, bringing together 15 groups, challenged the appellate ruling in the Supreme Court.

The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, which took effect in 2017, makes it illegal to compel an individual to undergo a DNA test and divulge the results as a condition for access to services or contracts.

For example, insurance companies cannot force a potential customer to take a test as a condition for buying life insurance.

Using or divulging someone’s genetic test results without his or her permission is punishable by a fine of up to CAN$1 million (US$736,000) and/or five years in prison.

Parliament adopted the law against the advice of the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which had argued that it exceeded the legislature’s jurisdiction.

It also warned the law had “significant potential to upset the constitutional balance between federal and provincial powers.”

But in its majority opinion, the court said: “The prohibitions in the Act protect autonomy, privacy, equality and public health, and therefore represent a valid exercise of Parliament’s criminal law power.”