Posted on October 23, 2022

Africa Centre, Black Community Groups, Call For End to Police DNA Phenotyping

Hamid Issawi, Edmonton Journal, October 20, 2022

Members of Edmonton’s Black community want police to stop using DNA phenotyping, a practice they say “demonizes and alienates” vulnerable people.

Postmedia obtained a Tuesday letter penned by local community groups and addressed to Edmonton Police Commission chairman John McDougall decrying DNA phenotyping in police investigations and calling for an end to the practice.

Spearheaded by the Africa Centre, the letter lists support from eight Edmonton-based, Black-led organizations who said they’re “deeply disturbed” with use of the technology as an investigative tool.

“Our community feels traumatized, scapegoated and humiliated,” the letter said {snip}


After a 2019 sexual assault investigation had gone cold, Edmonton Police Service (EPS) announced on Oct. 4 that it had sought assistance from a technology company in the U.S. to perform DNA phenotyping, which uses a person’s genetic material to predict parts of their appearance such as eye, skin and hair colour as well as facial features including shape.

The company, Parabon Nanolabs, produced a composite “snapshot” based on trait predictions from DNA evidence collected in the investigation, and police published the image of a suspect for circulation in the hope it would generate leads.

But rather than advancing the investigation, the image garnered community backlash for broadly characterizing a Black suspect, and stigmatizing as well as criminalizing racialized groups, police said.

Two days later, EPS announced that it would remove the image from its website and social media accounts. Enyinnah Okere, chief operating officer of EPS’s bureau for community safety and well-being, apologized for prioritizing the investigation over harm the image may have had on Edmonton’s Black community.

However, Okere gave no indication at the time that police would rule out the tool in future investigations. Rather, he said, EPS will be creating processes to ensure police use of the technology doesn’t disproportionately affect some communities.