Rights & Money

Genetic Discrimination Law Upheld by Supreme Court

Canadians don’t have to disclose the results of genetic testing to companies or employers

By Erika Morris


The Supreme Court of Canada on July 10 upheld the federal law prohibiting companies from making people disclose the results of genetic testing before purchasing services or signing employment contracts. The law also forbids companies to mandate clients and employees to take genetic tests.

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA) has said that genetic test results are of interest to health insurers when deciding to provide health or life insurance and their costs. Genetic testing can uncover predispositions and diagnose certain health conditions.

Under the act, Canadians can be assured that they can take these tests safely and without the fear that they will someday be used for to discriminate against them.

The CLHIA said it will continue to abide by the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. Penalties for violating the law include penalties up to $1 million and five years in prison.

The Genetic Non-Discrimination act has been contentious since it was brought to the Senate three years ago, though it had many supporters among MPs.

Critics say the law is an overreach of federal jurisdiction. Advocates say it was more important to look at the law’s intents and purposes than at technicalities, and that genetic discrimination is a threat to public health.

The law was upheld in a tight 5-4 vote. In 2018, Quebec brought the law to the provincial Court of Appeal, where it was found to be unconstitutional. The Coalition for Genetic Fairness challenged the decision.

At the time, Justice Andromache Karatsani stressed that genetic tests are deeply personal in nature and people take them for various reasons. Some people want to assess all potential health risks while others don’t, and many don’t want to have to disclose this information.

Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement that Canadians have to be reassured that their privacy and sensitive information is protected and cannot be used to to discriminate against them “in any capacity.”

Photo: iStock/peterspiro.