How would you feel if your DNA was used to convict a family member?
Last week, news consumers were divided on the use of this tactic to identify and arrest Ibrahim Ali who was recently convicted of the murder and sexual assault of a 13 year old victim in 2017 in Burnaby.
Investigators went undercover at a 2018 Kurdish New Year Celebration handing out samples of tea in hopes of collecting DNA from their suspect – and it worked. Police were able to obtain a sample from a relative of the suspect. The sample was analyzed and compared against the DNA sample collected from semen found inside the victim, and the results were conclusive: the sample collected at the Kurdish New Year Celebration belonged to the brother of the whomever’s DNA was found inside the victim. This critical development resulted in the positive identification of Ibrahim Ali, his subsequent arrest and ultimately, his conviction.
However, certain civil liberties advocates have decried this investigative strategy, claiming it infringes on the privacy rights of people who have their DNA seized when they themselves are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Further, genealogical DNA testing is not frequently accessed or available technology in Canada. As a result, the analysis is often done in the United States, further stoking concerns from privacy experts. Police are required to maintain a “chain of custody” for all exhibits in a case. When the exhibits are forensic material, it is especially important that the chain of custody be meticulously maintained. This becomes increasingly difficult when exhibits leave the custody of Canadian agencies. Further, labs in the United States (and beyond) may not be accredited to the same standard as a Canadian lab. And of course, when private and sensitive material exists in the database of outside agencies, there is always a security risk.
Genealogical DNA testing and its use in criminal law is still very much in its infancy – in Canada, anyways.
This investigational technique gained notoriety in 2018 when it was used to identify and convict the Golden State killer in California, and made headlines again in December 2022 when it was used to identify Bryan Kohberger, currently awaiting trial for the murder of four college students at the University of Idaho.
Canadian Courts and legislators are no doubt paying close attention to developments in the field of Genealogical DNA testing. It is more important now than ever – in the age of ever-advancing scientific exploration and sophisticated tools like AI – that the Courts, and the law, can maintain pace.
A Vancouver man suffering from long haul COVID-19 symptoms was successful in the judicial review of his 90-day Immediate Roadside Prohibition (“IRP”) after arguing that the Adjudicator breached his right to procedural fairness in his original review to RoadSafety BC.
On February 11, 2021, Peter Ronald Gibson was issued an IRP after the police officer alleged he refused to provide a sample. Mr. Gibson made 7 attempts into the Approved Screening Device, none of which successfully yielded a suitable sample. As a result, his vehicle was impounded for 30 days, and he was prohibited from driving for 90 days.
Mr. Gibson sought a review of his IRP to RoadSafety BC, delegate of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles on the basis that he had a reasonable excuse for failing to provide a breath sample. In Mr. Gibson’s original review, he provided evidence in the form of his Affidavit. He also provided a letter from his physician that confirmed his diagnosis – he was suffering from long term symptoms as a result of COVID-19, including shortness of breath on exertion.
The letter reads:
“His physical examination shows evidence of post-viral reactive airways with sever forced expiratory wheeze. He has been given prescriptions for Flovent and Salbutamol inhalers today. This could contribute to his difficulty performing breathalyzer test during recent traffic stop”
The Adjudicator at RoadSafety BC rejected the letter from Mr. Gibson’s physician, stating that there was no evidence that the physician was aware of the “minimum flow rate (of breath)” required to provide a sample. Mr. Gibson also provided his own Affidavit, which confirmed that he had been referred for treatment, which included CT scans and chest x-rays, among other diagnostic tests.
Keep in mind that the role of the Adjudicator is to analyze whether Mr. Gibson had a reasonable excuse for failing to provide a sample. The analysis is done through review of the Report to Superintendent and all included materials, and also through review of all materials provided by the Applicant (in this case, Mr. Gibson). The Adjudicator may also rely on the Operator’s manual for the Alco-Sensor FST (the Approved Screening Device), which includes information such as proper operating temperature of the device, screen codes, and procedural standards.
Ultimately, the Adjudicator determined that Mr. Gibson’s version of events lacked credibility, and that his physician did not provide sufficient evidence that his medical condition would have prevented him from providing a suitable sample into the Alco-Sensor FST. In doing so, they advanced their interpretation of the testing requirements within the Operator’s manual – specifically, the wording used to describe the necessary airflow required to provide a sample:
“The Alco-Sensor FST has an automatic sampling system designed to ensure that a sample of deep lung air is obtained and analyzed. In order to trigger automatic sampling the subject must blow with a minimum flow rate, must produce a minimum breath volume, and blow for a minimum duration…”
On judicial review, Supreme Court Justice Tammen took issue with the Adjudicator’s interpretation of this issue. The Judge dissected the Adjudicator’s analysis and concluded that despite quoting the appropriate resource, the manual itself provided no information to estimate the “minimum” flow rate required.
Through the Adjudicator’s analysis, Justice Tammen determined that they had relied on information (relating to the required flow rate of a sample) that was not available to the Petitioner (or his physician) at the outset of his review with RoadSafety BC. This breached the Petitioner’s right to procedural fairness.
Justice Tammen directed that the Adjudicator’s decision confirming the IRP of the Petitioner be set aside, and that the matter be remitted to RoadSafety BC for a new hearing.
This case demonstrates a significant flaw in the IRP regime – that is, a blurring of the lines between adjudication and medical expertise. While adjudicators may have specialized knowledge of certain issues due to continued exposure via their employment, the boundaries in their role must be respected and enforced.
If you have received an Immediate Roadside Prohibition, an Administrative Driving Prohibition, or have been charged with Impaired Operation of a Conveyance, contact an experienced criminal lawyer at Tarnow Criminal Law as soon as possible. Our office is located in the heart of Richmond, only 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver on the Canada Line, and within 10 minutes of Vancouver International Airport (“YVR”).
Our firm is also licensed to work in the Yukon Territory, where the 90-day review process for impaired driving is an entirely different process. If you are facing impaired driving charges in the Yukon, contact our office as soon as possible for a consultation.
In one of our previous posts, we discussed biometric technology and the role it plays in Canadian law enforcement. It is, however, only one of the “predictive” tools utilized by the police in relation to criminal investigations.
A new report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto goes into alarming detail regarding growth of algorithmic policing methods, and how this technology compromises the privacy rights of Canadian citizens. The report is incredibly thorough and comprehensive, delving into how this controversial technique offends various sections of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Firstly, though, it is important that our readers understand what algorithmic policing is.
The overall success of any algorithm is the system’s ability to gather, store, and analyze data – with law enforcement’s methodology being no different. A “location focused” algorithmic approach seeks to determine (predict) which areas are more likely to see criminal activity. The algorithmic system in these pursuits analyzes historical police data to identify geographical locations where crimes are, in theory, more likely to be committed. If this sounds familiar to you, then you’ve likely heard of, or accessed, the Vancouver Police Department’s GeoDash crime map – an online tool where you can navigate a map of the City of Vancouver by crime occurrence. You can choose from a variety of offences on the dropdown list, including homicide, break and enter, mischief, theft, and “offences against a person” which likely includes a variety of crimes such as sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, and uttering threats. By looking at this map, you get an idea of which neighborhoods in Vancouver are most vulnerable to crime – except that it’s a little bit more sophisticated than that, and goes far beyond simply dropping a pin on the map. The public can see where the crime took place, but not who is alleged to have committed it. The offender’s personal information is logged, in as much detail as possible, and becomes part of a larger system dedicated to predictive surveillance – i.e., it creates a profile of which individuals are more likely to commit a particular crime. This profile can be used to identify people who are “more likely to be involved in potential criminal activity, or to assess an identified person for their purported risk of engaging in criminal activity in the future”.
While this information is definitely concerning, there is another issue: we have very little insight into the extent that this technology is being used. We know that the methods by which police gather information have historically discriminated against minority groups and those living in marginalized communities. This seems to guarantee that the VPD’s use of algorithmic investigative techniques relies on data that is often obtained through biased methods. We know that black and indigenous individuals are disproportionately represented in the correctional system, which can only mean that they are disproportionately represented in respect of these algorithms.
Although not everyone agrees that systemic racism exists within the VPD, the calls to address, unravel and mitigate the harm to marginalized groups continue to amplify. The idea that information collected under the apprehension of bias will not only remain on record, but will be used to further future investigations, is an indicator that Canadian law enforcement’s road to redemption will likely be a bumpy one.
Over the last couple of months, there has been outcry from the public urging the use of BWC’s (Body Worn Cameras) for Canadian law enforcement. Although initially in response to the growing unrest relating to police brutality in the United States, there are echoes of abandoned intentions from Canadian officials dating back at least a few years.
Back in 2015, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (“OPCC”) issued a publication regarding the use of BWC by police, in collaboration with privacy agencies in Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec. The remaining Canadian law enforcement agencies from other provinces and territories acted “in consultation”.
For reference: according to the CBC, there were a total of 2 incidents involving the death of individuals at the hands of law enforcement in New Brunswick between 2012 and 2014, 12 incidents in Quebec, and 14 incidents in Alberta. Interestingly enough, British Columbia (on par with Quebec at 14 deaths) and Ontario (with the highest rate of police violence resulting in death in the country at 25 deaths between 2012 and 2014) were only acting in consultation.
The report hails the effectiveness of BWC to capture high quality images, videos, and audio recordings – so effective, in fact, that the OPCC had grave concerns regarding their ability to capture material that could jeopardize the privacy of innocent and uninvolved bystanders.
The report goes on to tout the value of BWC for evidentiary purposes, including analytics so sophisticated that the material obtained would likely be suitable for biometric comparison – aka, facial recognition.
There is no arguing the fact that the use of BWC by police has implications for the privacy of citizens in their everyday lives – especially since once fitted, citizens would likely expect on-duty officers to have their devices on a continuous basis as opposed to intermittently.
Benefits of BWC include the ability to review interactions between police and the public, recording communications between the police and suspects in the course of an investigation, identifying potential witnesses, and of course recording interactions between police officers. Many criminal cases involve evidence obtained through the use of dash cams, which provide audio from inside a police cruiser and video from the perspective of the driver. The effectiveness of this technology loses value when the investigation takes place outside of a police vehicle, as the audio often fails to capture intelligible communications between police and a suspect, or between officers themselves. Although the dash cam is kept running, the audio portion is often useless when the interactions between police and a suspect take place outside the vehicle, and the windows of the police cruiser are closed, or if the police/suspect leave the immediate area where the audio is successfully captured.
The report indicates that while continuous recording would undoubtedly provide a greater level of accountability for the actions of police, the threat to personal privacy reigns supreme:
“From an accountability perspective, continuous recording may be preferable because it captures an unedited recording of an officer’s actions and the officer cannot be accused of manipulating recordings for his or her own benefit. However, from a privacy perspective, collecting less or no personal information is always the preferred option”
In 2014, the Edmonton Police concluded a pilot project regarding the use of BWC by its officers. The conclusion?:
“The cameras had no effect on police use-of-force incidents and said there was no statistical difference in resolving police complaints”
According to an analysis done by CBC, there were a total of four deaths between 2012 and 2014 relating to officers of the Edmonton Police Service. By comparison, there were 9 deaths in the same period relating to officers of the Toronto Police Service. The results of the Pilot Project may have seen different results in a different jurisdiction.
The Edmonton Police explained that in addition to being ineffective to expose cases of police misconduct, the related expenses were simply unrealistic. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not the cost of the devices themselves, but the expense to store and manage all of the material collected: somewhere between 6 and 15 million dollars over five years, which also includes hiring personnel qualified for the job.
Finding the balance between accountability, transparency and oversight of police against the protection of privacy for Canadian citizens is a legitimate and profound task – one that cannot be taken lightly. As the calls for BWC in Canadian law enforcement grow louder, and as Canadians revisit the reality of what it is to be privileged in this country, we can only hope that the values of dignity and equality are recognized as being more valuable than the cost of the equipment that very well could save lives.
It has been over one month since the Courts of British Columbia significantly curtailed operations in an attempt to combat COVID-19.
For many of those who work in the legal field, it was this development that made it all real. It quickly became clear that the novel coronavirus had the potential to spread quickly, and the confined space of a courtroom serves as ideal grounds for transmission.
Despite the coronavirus acting as a proverbial wrench in the gears of justice, the judicial system continues to putter along. This is largely due to increased utilization of technological tools like video/conferencing for court appearances and swearing of affidavits, and relaxing restrictions when it comes to fax/electronic filing of court documents.
Video conferencing isn’t new to the BC court system. As early as 2002, Judges across the province agreed that the technology improved procedural efficiency by facilitating witness testimony from distant locations and allowing interim appearances by video involving counsel from other jurisdictions. Judges also noted the value of video- conferencing for inmates at correctional centres – defeating the purpose of transferring multiple inmates from various correctional centres to various courthouses. The bottom line is that modernizing certain aspects of the criminal justice system makes sense financially and systemically – and events like COVID-19 demonstrate how it can have occupational benefits too.
At present, there is enormous value in modernizing certain judicial processes for two reasons – one, to limit face-to-face interactions between judicial staff, defence counsel and an Accused person, and two, to mitigate the consequences of what can only be described as colossal delay.
In reducing operations, the majority of criminal trials scheduled between March 18, 2020 and June 1, 2020, have been adjourned generally to dates in June and July, 2020. Cases that are deemed to be of an urgent nature will be able to proceed, although in a procedural sense, things will look different – for example, witnesses who would ordinarily appear before the Court to give evidence may be authorized to testify via video. For the most part, however, trials will proceed at a date that is likely much later than originally anticipated.
The situation is more grim for accused persons in custody awaiting their trial. Inmates are, of course, among the most vulnerable to contracting the novl coronavirus – a concern that was a topic of discussion before the courts closed – but didn’t really become part of the actual narrative until it was too late Trials for accused persons in custody have also been adjourned (for trials scheduled between March 23 and May 16, 2020). Sentencing hearings and bail hearings for accused persons will proceed. This could be positive – for some, it might result in their immediate release from the correctional system. For others, further incarceration for as little as an additional 90 days in custody will be devastating, a potential death sentence.
It is far too early to gauge how overwhelmed the court system will be at the return to business as usual – but when you consider that there was a huge backlog before COVID-19 shut it all down, it seems only reasonable that extreme measures – such as implementing night/weekend court, and permanently authorizing certain modernization measures – will need to be taken to truly return to normal.