Government removing hurdles to missing persons DNA data bank

The government has proposed amendments to the DNA Identification Act to permit the national police force to set up new indices for missing persons, relatives of missing persons and human remains.

Changes will allow use in police investigations as well as for the identification of victims of mass disasters

The federal government has proposed amendments to the DNA Identification Act that would give the RCMP wider power to compile a national DNA databank for help in missing persons cases. (Shutterstock)

The RCMP is one step closer to implementing the long-delayed missing persons DNA data bank.

In regulations published Friday in the Canada Gazette, the government proposed amendments to the DNA Identification Act that would permit the national police force to set up three new indices for missing persons, relatives of missing persons and human remains.

"We share the pain of those whose loved ones have gone missing and are committed to helping law enforcement solve these heart-wrenching cases," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in an email to CBC News.

The RCMP's national DNA data bank (NDDB) was created in 2000. Up until now, the law had limited the national police force to an index for convicted offenders and crime scenes.

Three years ago, in its 2014 budget, the federal government committed $8 million to create the DNA-based missing persons index with the hope that coroners, medical examiners and police could use it to match missing persons to unidentified human remains.

The regulations published Friday spell out the purpose of collecting DNA profiles, potential implications of submitting a sample and how the information would be used.

How DNA would be used

Specifically, the notice stipulates that anyone who chooses to submit their DNA — for example, a family member of a missing person — must provide informed consent to have their samples searched for a period of up to five years and that their DNA can only be used for comparisons with a humanitarian purpose.

It is also made clear that "forensic DNA analysis and comparison of the person's DNA may result in incidental findings, such as a finding relating to genetic relationships" such as paternity.

The notice also highlights other potential uses of the database.

"The broadening of the national use of DNA identification for humanitarian purposes will facilitate not only police investigations but also the identification of victims of mass disasters (e.g. SwissAir Flight 111 and Lac-Megantic)," reads the regulatory impact analysis.

"While not a panacea for solving all outstanding missing persons investigations, the introduction of the new indices will help to ease the suffering of those Canadians missing loved ones by assuring them that all new investigative avenues available to police are being pursued."

In drafting the regulations, the RCMP consulted with the federal ombudsman for victims of crime as well as members of the NDDB's advisory committee, which includes scientists and ethicists. There is now a month-long consultation period for the public and stakeholders.

The index will help provide much-needed certainty and closure to the family and friends of those who are missing.- Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale

The impact analysis notes that every year there are 500 new, unsolved missing persons cases, and approximately 100 unidentified human remains are found.

The database was supposed to be up and running more than a year ago. When CBC News last reported on the delay, a Public Safety spokesperson said the federal government was reviewing the program's service delivery model.

"The government has been diligently working to setup the missing persons index in the RCMP's National DNA Data Bank, and it will be up and running early next year. The index will help provide much-needed certainty and closure to the family and friends of those who are missing," said Goodale.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that people who voluntarily provide their DNA could see it used for criminal identification as well. In fact, the new regulations stipulate that the use of the DNA would be restricted to comparisons for humanitarian purposes.
    Oct 18, 2017 2:59 PM ET