News / Calgary

Alberta police representatives push for DNA tests upon arrest

Along with fingerprinting and photographing, cops should be also be able to swab suspected criminals' cheeks for DNA as part of the routine booking procedure, police representatives in Alberta say.

Armed with its "Legislative and Police Strategy Targeting Repeat and High Risk Offenders," the Alberta Federation of Police Associations recently went before federal MPs to call for reforms in DNA collection, parole authorization and other areas of law enforcement.

Chief among the items in the proposal is changing the point of DNA collection from the point of conviction — and subsequent court order — to the time of arrest.

The thinking, according to newly elected federation director Paul Wozney, is to speed up potential solving of other cases, cut down on the "maze" of court procedures to obtain a warrant for DNA, and expand the list for when a cheek swab can occur to include any indictable offence.

"We are not targeting Joe Canadian or Joe Citizen," Wozney added. "This is the one per cent that we're chasing day and night . . . someone who does a break-and-enter, it's not a stretch for them to commit sexual offences as well."

The federation's strategy was developed by former Alberta Crown attorney Scott Newark, who has long pushed for DNA collection reforms. Wozney said the document received much interest from federal representatives.

The so-called "test on arrest" practice has been adopted by 26 U.S. states and has received endorsement from President Barack Obama as well; however, the country's Supreme Court is currently reviewing the matter and some justices have publicly raised concerns that it infringes too much on privacy rights.

Calgary defence lawyer Ian Savage raised similar concerns Monday.

"We have a constitutional presumption of innocence in this country . . . the gathering of DNA should only be gathered for people convicted of criminal offences," he said. "It's obvious – there's not any issue I'm aware of with the current process."

Wozney said, however, the collected samples of any suspect later found not guilty could be destroyed.

Alberta Solicitor General Jonathan Denis said in a statement Monday he will watch the proposal closely, but added any decision will ultimately be left to federal officials.

"While we want to give police the tools they need, I certainly see potential issues related to constitutional and privacy rights of Canadians that need to be considered," Denis said.

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