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Chief Rick Hanson's Call For DNA Sample Collection At Arrests Gains Traction In Ottawa

10/04/2013 03:02 EDT | Updated 10/04/2013 05:01 EDT

Calgary's top cop's call for the collection of DNA before a conviction is gaining traction in Ottawa, but is being blasted by people in the streets and law professionals alike.

Chief Rick Hanson on Wednesday called for changes to federal legislation that would allow law enforcement agencies to extract a DNA sample at the time of arrest. The move, said Hanson, would help police solve some crimes faster and bring resolution to others.

Currently, DNA samples are only gathered for certain crimes and only after conviction.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay told the Calgary Sun a review of DNA regulations at the federal level is in the preliminary stages.

“We’re examining ways in which we could perhaps bring DNA into further use,” he said.

"My personal view is that it is like a fingerprint and fingerprints as well were resisted in the early days."

Hanson made the connection between between fingerprinting and DNA samples as well, saying taking fingerprints and mug shots at the time of arrest are standard practices now and that DNA is the modern day equivalent of those older identification methods.

“I maintain that, you know, a genetic fingerprint is no different and could be used in my view as an investigative tool," MacKay told the Globe and Mail.

Calgary-based Criminal Defence Lawyers Association president Ian Savage told CBC the notion of taking DNA from someone who has not been convicted of a crime is intrusive.

"Taking the DNA sample from someone who is only suspected or alleged to have committed any criminal offence, at the beginning of the process, is obviously for investigative purposes which for, generally speaking, you need a warrant," Savage said.

And the Supreme Court of Canada agrees with that sentiment, Abby Deshman, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s public safety program, told the Globe and Mail, adding past rulings by the body described DNA collection as 'highly intrusive.'

“There are so many people who are arrested and never found guilty … that to institute a sweeping personal information collection scheme on the basis of arrest would be very troubling,” she said.

People who have been fingerprinted and had their photos taken only to be proven innocent later already find it tremendously difficult to have that evidence destroyed and she told the Globe that there is no indication the same wouldn't be true with DNA samples.

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Although there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate, discussion by readers, as well as on Facebook, was distinctly one-sided, with most of those weighing in panning the idea of a DNA sample before conviction.

"Innocent until proven guilty. I don't care if I don't have anything to hide — there is no reason for the government to have my DNA profile if I have never been convicted of a crime," said Jacob Alexander on Facebook.

Also on Facebook, Mark Lindberg said the proposal is dangerous because of the human factor, the fact that humans will be in possession of the genetic information and that no "people are above criminal behaviour."

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