Canadian Senate Seeks to Prohibit Genetic Discrimination

In recent years, the issue of “genetic discrimination” has emerged as a source of concern in Canada, the United States and around the world. The Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness defines genetic discrimination as occurring, “when people are treated unfairly because of actual or perceived differences in their genetic information that may cause or increase the risk to develop a disorder or disease.” In the Canadian employment context, government officials have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of employers using genetic information as a basis on which to determine whether to offer and continue employment.  While issues of discrimination and the protection of personal health information are currently addressed through provincial and federal human rights and privacy legislation, the Canadian Senate has introduced new additional legislation to protect genetic information and prohibit genetic discrimination.

In 2013, the Canadian Senate introduced Bill S-218, which stalled following the prorogation of Parliament. This legislation was subsequently re-introduced in 2015 by Senator James Cowan as Bill S-201: An Act to Prohibit and Prevent Genetic Discrimination. Bill S-201 seeks to prohibit the requirement of genetic testing and the disclosure of genetic testing results as a condition of:

  • the provision of goods and services;
  • entering into or continuance of a contract or agreement; and
  • the offering or continuance of specific terms or conditions in a contract or agreement.

The proposed penalties for contraventions of Bill S-201 include monetary fines and imprisonment. Bill S-201 also seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to address and prohibit genetic discrimination.

Following a Second Reading on January 27, 2016, Bill S-201 was referred to the Senate’s Human Rights Committee. To find out more about human rights in the workplace, contact employment lawyer Peter McSherry online or at 519-821-5465.

To read Bill S-201, click here.