DNA databank for missing proposed

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

LA MALBAIE, Que. (CP) - Canada needs a DNA databank for missing persons to spare families the pain and frustration of searching, often for years, for loved ones who may be dead, Solicitor General Wayne Easter said Tuesday.

CREDIT: CP/Tom Hanson

Federal Solicitor General Wayne Easter

But Easter acknowledged the idea needs further study because of the costs involved and privacy issues, particularly those surrounding adults who seemingly disappear but who might not want to be found.

Easter presented the concept of a Missing Persons Index to provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice at their annual two-day meeting.

People wanting to track down a loved one would submit hair or other genetic material to a central system that could be accessed across the country for comparison with unidentified remains.

"DNA is a marvellous technology and marvellous tool in terms of criminal investigations and many areas," Easter said during a break at the meeting in this community north of Quebec City.

"But we have never put in place the system to really use it for humanitarian assistance, to assist those families who have a missing person and want to track down what has become of them."

Easter said he was inspired in part by Judy Peterson, whose 14-year-old daughter Lindsey Nicholls disappeared in August 1993 while walking down a railway track near Victoria.

Peterson has long lobbied the federal government for such a DNA registry. Earlier this year, Canadian Alliance MP Gary Lunn introduced a private member's bill - entitled Lindsey's Law - to establish the special databank.

With consensus among the provinces, Easter said a committee has been struck to study the issue and report back at next year's meeting.

Peterson said she was delighted with Easter's announcement.

"It's just fantastic," Peterson said in a phone interview.

She said families of missing persons need closure, even if their worst fears are realized.

"I need to know that if she's found I will know and I don't have that comfort right now. If she's found murdered I want to know, I don't want to think that she's sitting in a coroner's office somewhere."

Peterson said the databank could also help "complete the puzzle" by linking the victim to a crime scene and an offender who might now be brought to justice.

B.C. Attorney General Rich Coleman said the databank is long overdue and would have been especially useful in the Vancouver police investigation of pig farmer Robert Pickton, who faces 15 first-degree murder charges.

"My position right from the beginning has been that we needed this two years ago," said Coleman.

"But it needs to be national in scope and needs to be shared with other (criminal) databases so that the two can be compared."

The Pickton investigation has involved more than 90,000 DNA tests. Coleman said a Missing Persons Index could have saved police precious time in identifying the victims.

There are currently 266 people listed in CPIC - the Canadian Police Information Computer. The RCMP's Missing Children's Registry reported more than 66,500 cases last year, including more than 55,000 runaways.

Easter, Peterson and Coleman all agreed the issue of privacy can be balanced with the public interest in having the databank.

"If I want to be missing I can be missing," said Peterson. "It's not like anyone is going to be looking at my credit cards. But I'm assuming that people want to be identified if they're found in a ditch or at a crime scene."

Other issues discussed at Tuesday's meeting included a national child protection centre, which would better integrate policing of Internet crimes and child sexual exploitation.

The ministers also discussed the national child sex-offender registry and whether mega-trials are the best way to prosecute criminal cases involving organized crime.

 Copyright  2003 Canadian Press




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Updated: August 21, 2016