TORONTO - "Weird. Awkward. Uncomfortable."
These are words Douglas Campbell, 20, used to describe his
emotions after police knocked on the door of his Toronto
apartment last week and asked him for a DNA sample.
Campbell's West End home is in the heart of the most
intensive part of the police investigation into the slaying of
10-year-old Holly Jones, who disappeared on her way home from
a friend's house early in the evening of May 12. Police
canvassed the streets where Holly was last seen, asking men
"over a certain age" and who met certain criteria for saliva
Investigators are not ruling out as possible subjects those
who co-operate any more than they are ruling them in, Toronto
police Sgt. Jim Muscat said at a news conference.
"They're all possible suspects, and it's all a matter of a
process of elimination," he said.
Muscat said several people refused to provide samples.
Campbell was one of them, saying he felt somewhat intimidated.
"I felt uncomfortable about it. . . . If I have doubts
about it one way or another, I'm more likely to say no than I
am to say yes. People knock on your door and ask for your DNA?
. . . No, brother," Campbell said.
He said police were "OK" about his refusal. "But I felt
really uncomfortable. I didn't trust them," he added.
Police have said samples will be used for the current
investigation and then discarded. But Campbell wasn't so sure.
"I was kind of paranoid that, like, what if they did keep
it on record? What if some scientists decided to keep the DNA
and in 20 years used it for something?" he said.
Experts say such massive DNA sweeps can have a sobering
social and legal price.
Besides challenging civil liberties and tearing
neighborhoods apart, a sweep - known as a "blooding" - can
compromise the value of any DNA evidence it yields.
"The police think they are being very clever, but
proceeding this way could very well jeopardize their case down
the road," said Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the
University of Alberta.
Individuals asked to volunteer DNA samples in a
high-profile homicide case may feel they have no choice,
setting up a later court challenge, he said.
"Make no mistake, it is a form of state-imposed coercion,"
Anand said. "Neighborhood pressure is a huge ingredient in
whether someone actually exercises their constitutional
"I think that person could make a very good case that their
sample was obtained by coercion. It becomes a forcible
seizure, and police have to establish it was reasonable. And
Alan Borovoy, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties
Association, said a blooding is "an enormous intrusion into
our personal privacy. No matter how it is dressed up, there is
an element of coercion."
However, Borovoy said it is too early to judge whether the
Toronto police have sufficient evidence to justify their
sweep. What the case does emphasize, he said, is a need for a
body empowered to review such tactics.
John Dixon, of the British Columbia Civil Liberties
Association, said that as a prerequisite for obtaining a
sample, police should have reasonable and probable grounds to
believe an individual is a genuine suspect.
"If it were me, I would be a refusenik," he said. "The
issue of principle is far more important than whatever
transitory gain you may have from suspending civil liberties."
Dixon also was skeptical about police assurances that DNA
samples will be destroyed. He said it would be no surprise if
they ended up in the national data bank.