Justice without science?

Judging the reliability of forensic science in Canada

  • Emma Cunliffe University of British Columbia
  • Gary Edmond University of New South Wales
Keywords: Criminal law, Evidence, Expert, Opinion Evidence, Admissibility, Threshold Reliability, Forensic Evidence, Identification, Fingerprint, Limitations, RCMP Forensic Analysis, Scientific literacy


A compelling body of scientific research demonstrates that the validity of many forensic sciences is uncertain and that courts have been ineffective in safeguarding the reliability of forensic science. While this research has had some impact in the US and UK, Canadian law and institutional arrangements have largely failed to acknowledge and respond to scientific developments.

This article explores these issues through the example of fingerprint comparison. This identification evidence has been accepted in Canadian courtrooms for more than 100 years. However, its reliability and limitations were never subjected to serious scrutiny in a Canadian court until the BC Supreme Court trial in R v Bornyk, 2017 BCSC 849. Tracing the course of the Bornyk litigation reveals systemic problems with the production and evaluation of forensic science evidence within the Canadian criminal legal system.


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