Canada exploring DNA data bank idea

Monday, December 30, 2002

VANCOUVER (CP) -- A B.C. woman whose daughter disappeared almost 10 years ago wants the federal government to set up a national missing-person DNA data bank.

Judy Peterson said a central DNA registry that links victims to crimes and murderers to victims could give her and other families peace of mind.

Peterson hasn't seen her 14-year-old daughter, Lindsey, since August 1993.

Adding missing persons to an existing DNA database is just common sense, she says.

"It will allow police to enter DNA profiles and share information across the country and internationally about unidentified human remains, about DNA that's found at crime scenes," says Peterson. "And that way we can link victims to crime scenes."

There are about 6,000 unidentified DNA samples from Canadian crime scenes.

It's possible her daughter's DNA is in the crime-scene index, or that Lindsey's body has been found but can't be identified, Peterson says.

She also wants all convicted offenders to submit to DNA tests, just like they do for fingerprints. Since 2000, the Criminal Code has allowed the court to order DNA samples only for serious violent offences, including aggravated assault, sexual assault and murder.

Those DNA profiles are added to the offenders index of the current database. There is also an index of DNA taken from unsolved crime scenes.

Each time a new profile is entered, the system cross-checks it against previous entries looking for any matches.

There are more than 32,000 offenders' profiles and approximately 7,000 unsolved crime samples in the national registry.

There have been more than 460 matches between registered offenders and unsolved crimes.

DNA profiles of missing persons and unidentified human remains could be and should be added to the current database, says Cpl. Jim Lucas, DNA collections co-ordinator for the RCMP in British Columbia.

"The dilemma we find here is that the coroner's office have 125-plus found remains, which potentially could give DNA profiles," says Lucas. "And we have hundreds of missing-persons investigations during the last decade where potentially we have DNA profiles of these missing persons.

"You could solve some of these and bring closure to some of these missing-person investigations and also close some of these found human-remains investigations."

Police and the coroner's service in British Columbia are pushing to include missing persons in the data bank.

Steven Sullivan, spokesman for the Canadian Centre for Victims of Crime, admits setting up the bank could be an expensive process.

But police would save money on investigations and it would help families of missing people, he says.

"I think it's a priority that most Canadians would support," he says. "It could give to many families a sense of closure.

"At least they know what happened, and I don't think we can put a price tag on that kind of comfort to people."

Without changes to the federal data bank Peterson says she will never know if Lindsey's DNA was found at a crime scene.

Such a data bank also would save a lot of time, money and police resources, she says

"If this legislation was in place two or three years ago, all of the missing women from the Downtown Eastside would already be in a database and they would just now be testing the found DNA and comparing it," she says.

"As it is now, they're having to do familial profiles from all the families of the missing women so it's a dual job for them right now."

Police have admitted that police labs have been overwhelmed with the number of exhibits from the farm of accused serial killer Robert William Pickton, who is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder.

As part of its investigation, the joint RCMP-Vancouver police task force investigating the disappearances of 61 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have gathered DNA from family members -- in most cases years after the women were reported missing.

The federal government is currently reviewing its DNA data bank legislation and has promised a national sex-offender registry that would include current addresses and identifying marks.

 Copyright  2002 Canadian Press

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Updated: August 21, 2016