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Modern testing techniques mean that it is possible for individuals to access highly intimate data about not just their current medical condition but their underlying genetic condition.  This has raised serious concerns about the possible negative side effects of the availability of such information on individuals.

As a partial response to this issue, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act has come into effect.  The law applies to all federally regulated organizations, such as most banks and telecommunications companies.

The Act is intended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information.  Specifically, federally regulated employers that have legitimate reasons to require medical information from an employee or prospective employee will no longer be permitted to require that such individuals undergo genetic testing and/or to disclose the results of any such test.

The legislation resulted in changes to both the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Canada Labour Code has specifically been modified so that it is unlawful for employers to require employees to either undergo genetic testing and/or to be required to provide the results. The Canadian Human Rights Act, for its part, makes it clear that an employer cannot discriminate against an individual (i.e. an employee or prospective employee) on the basis of their genetic results.

The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act also makes it clear that an individual cannot be punished for the fact that they have elected to not provide genetic information.  This applies in the case of an employer-employee relationship or in the provision of services, more generally.

There are serious consequences organizations that do not comply with the new law. Employers, for example, can face disciplinary action including an order to reinstate a discriminated employee to their previous position.  The law also includes potential fines of up to $1 million dollars and a potential for maximum period of five (5) years’ imprisonment.


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