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Canada using DNA searches of ancestry websites to identify refugee claimants


The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has been using DNA searches of ancestry websites to attempt to identify refugee claimants in some cases, The Toronto Star reports.

A former refugee and resident of Toronto, Franklin Goodwin, was twice deported by the CBSA to Liberia following a string of criminal offences, where he was refused re-entry by Liberian officials who said he is not from the country, according to The Star. Goodwin gave consent for a DNA swab by Canadian border officials, and now, partially based on searches of Familytree.com and Ancestry.com, and matched him to two alleged distant cousins, both living in the UK, with Nigerian ancestry.

“CBSA uses DNA testing in order to determine identity of longer term detainees when other avenues of investigation have been exhausted,” said the agency’s spokesperson Jayden Robertson.

“DNA testing assists the CBSA in determining identity by providing indicators of nationality thereby enabling us to focus further lines of investigation on particular countries.”

In a recent review of Goodwin’s detention, government counsel noted that Goodwin had previously attempted to travel to Nigeria, and his criminal associations include a Nigerian gang. Goodwin’s lawyer, Subodh Bharati, said the DNA methodology is very suspect, and that Ancestry.com says that the shared DNA with a third cousin is 3 percent, and with a fourth cousin is .195 percent.

“All that shows us (is) one of the great, great, great grandparents lived in Nigeria,” Bharati said. “What is this honestly? This means nothing that can be put any weight on respectfully. This one cousin or two cousins from Nigeria means nothing.”

The CBSA declined to comment on the protocol for using DNA for investigations. Familytree.com did not respond to The Star’s request for comment, but Ancestry.com said that protecting customer privacy is the site’s highest priority, and that is has not worked with border agencies.

NIST recently calculated the frequency with which genes appear in profiles based on next-generation sequencing, which establishes a basis for advanced DNA identification.

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