A new unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is assembling a national database for finding missing people and identifying human remains that will link investigators from across the country when their cases match.

The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains was created to support police, coroners and medical examiners and let them compare their findings to cases from across the country.

RCMP Insp. Carole Bird, who leads the new unit, said bringing together information that all regions can share should help police solve local mysteries.

"In some cases we will find an unidentified remains and not search on a national level, because sometimes that capability was not there," said Bird. "With the new database the system will do that automatically."

Getting public involved part of strategy

Another part of the new unit's strategy involves turning to the public. A poster campaign in the works shows missing children lost in a forest. The aim is to get people thinking about cold cases, looking at photos, and even asking questions about their own origins. 

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RCMP Insp. Carol Bird said the new unit hopes to provide expertise and data for local police forces. (CBC)

In a recent incident in the United States, a 35-year-old Philadelphia man solved his own decades-old missing person's case after recognizing an age-enhanced image of himself taken from a childhood photo.

Steven Carter later learned his biological mother had given a false name when she was institutionalized, and he was later put up for adoption, not knowing that his father had reported him missing.

The RCMP website is scheduled to be up and running in 2013. Bird hopes public interaction turns it into a powerful tool in solving cold cases.

"You'll be able to go on the website, see that somebody was reported missing, and you'll be able to say 'Wait a minute, I was there on that day, I saw this person speaking to this person,'" said Bird.

The task is daunting, however, as there are about 40,000 people reported missing in Canada every year.

Though most reappear in fairly short order, 6,000 to 7,000 will still be missing after a year. Law enforcement officials do not have a good estimate of how many of those people might be alive, or how many might be victims of foul play.