Canadian Police Face Backlash For Using DNA to Create Digital Images of Unidentified Suspects

Canadian Police Face Backlash For Using DNA to Create Digital Images of Unidentified Suspects

Black residents in the Edmonton region of Alberta, Canada, are calling out the local police for the use of phenotyping, a practice where DNA is used to create digital images of unidentified suspects.

Last Tuesday, community groups came together to pen a letter to Edmonton Police Commission Chairman John McDougall calling for an end to the use of DNA phenotyping for how it “demonizes and alienates” vulnerable people, Edmonton Journal reports.

Led by the Africa Centre and seven Edmonton-based, Black-led organizations, the letter expressed how “deeply disturbed” the Black community is with the use of phenotyping as an investigative tool.

“Our community feels traumatized, scapegoated and humiliated,” the letter said.

Earlier this month, Edmonton Police Service (EPS) announced plans to work with a U.S. company to begin the practice of DNA phenotyping. The technology uses a person’s DNA to predict how they might look, including eyes, skin, hair color, facial features, and shape.

But after releasing an image of an unidentified suspect in a sexual assault case gone cold, the results garnered public backlash for how the image characterized a Black suspect. EPS removed the image from its website and social media two days after its release.

EPS Chief Operating Officer Enyinnah Okere apologized for how the image might’ve upset Edmonton’s Black community. But the public has taken their fight further with the letter to McDougall.

“It is troubling to issue a generic image that renders large numbers of Black males suspect,” the letter states.

“Our community feels traumatized, scapegoated and humiliated. An incident that demonizes and alienates the most vulnerable individuals and families of our community. The practice deepens historical mistrust and lowers confidence in our policing.”

Along with Africa Centre, other organizations involved with the letter are the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council and Black Women United, CBC.CA reports. On Thursday, police said they only used phenotyping once as a last resort in a violent sexual assault case.