Evidence of meeting #52 for Justice and Human Rights in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was dna.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Joe Buckle  Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Anne-Elizabeth Charland  Officer in Charge, Management Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • David Bird  Senior Legal Counsel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • J. Bowen  Acting Director, Biology Project, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

I'd like to call to order the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Our agenda, of course, is before you. Our order of reference of Wednesday, October 4, 2006, is to examine Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification.

As witnesses before the committee, we have members of the RCMP: Mr. David Bird, senior legal counsel; Mr. J. Bowen, acting director, biology project; and Mr. Joe Buckle, director general, Forensic Science and Identification Services; and I understand that Ms. Anne-Elizabeth Charland, officer in charge of management services, is also here, but not at the table.

Thank you all for being here.

Mr. Buckle, I would ask that you begin. I understand you're making the presentation today.

February 27th, 2007 / 9 a.m.

A/Commr Joe Buckle Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today. I have a brief statement prepared that I will present to you at this time. I brought copies of the statement in this morning for your perusal.

In 1892 an Argentinian police official used for the first time a small data bank of fingerprints that he had amassed from the local population to solve the murder of two children. The use of fingerprints was the gold standard of forensic identification technologies for over 100 years around the world.

The reign of fingerprinting as the pinnacle of human identification tools came to an end in the late 1980s when a British scientist, Dr. Alex Jeffries, who was conducting evolution research using DNA technology, applied his research to a couple of murders under investigation by British police. Not only did this application lead to the conviction of a suspect, but it was also used to exonerate another individual.

In 1989 the RCMP first used the new DNA technology in the investigation of a sexual assault. The victim identified her assailant, and a DNA analysis later confirmed him as the perpetrator. This was the first time in which DNA evidence led to a conviction in Canada and the first time in which a law enforcement laboratory developed its own DNA evidence and presented the findings in a Canadian court.

Not since the first use of fingerprints in 1892 has a forensic application witnessed such proliferation of usage and acceptance within the scientific community and, more importantly, in the courts. The use of DNA has become an important and powerful tool in combatting crime. Canada signaled its intention to make broader use of the power of DNA with the passage of the DNA Identification Act, which was proclaimed in force on June 30, 2000.

The act created the National DNA Data Bank, which began operations upon proclamation and is responsible for two indices: the convicted offender index, which contains the DNA profiles of offenders convicted of designated offences as identified in section 487.04 of the Criminal Code; and the crime scene index, which contains DNA profiles of bodily substances recovered from crime scenes of designated offences.

The data bank assists law enforcement agencies in solving crimes by linking crimes together where there are no suspects, helping to identify suspects, eliminating suspects where there is no match between crime scene DNA and a DNA profile already in the data bank, and determining whether a serial offender is involved.

Physically the National DNA Data Bank, with its laboratories, sophisticated analytical equipment, computing facilities, and team of scientists and technicians, is located in Ottawa at the RCMP Headquarters. The data bank is part of the RCMP National Police Services.

Due to privacy and contamination concerns, and by virtue of the DNA Identification Act, the data bank is a self-contained unit. The data bank is a success in every sense and has fully met the expectations and spirit of the legislation. It has never experienced a capacity problem and continues to grow each year. It is, however, engaged only with the analysis of convicted offender samples.

The data bank employs 30 scientists and technicians and receives between 350 and 450 convicted offender samples each week. As of February 19, 2007, the data bank had 6,522 matches between the convicted offender index and the crime scene index.

It is important to draw a distinction between the activities and environment of the National DNA Data Bank and the Forensic Laboratory Services. The forensic services are also a part of the RCMP National Police Services. The FLS provides forensic services to the provinces and territories that contract with the federal government for provincial and territorial policing services. Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial police departments, as well as their own forensic laboratory systems. The forensic laboratories are key partners of the data bank, as they analyze crime scene evidence in support of criminal investigations and supply DNA profiles to the crime scene index.

While DNA analysis has become a large part of the work of the forensic laboratories, these labs also undertake ballistics analysis, paint typing, chemical and drug analysis, and other forms of forensic services.

The RCMP Forensic Laboratory Services has 120 DNA scientists and technologists and produces DNA case reports from five locations across Canada: in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Ottawa, and Halifax.

The impact of DNA technology on law enforcement and judicial systems has resulted in an enhanced desire to use DNA technology to resolve criminal investigations and an exponential increase in the number of cases submitted to forensic laboratories.

The number of new cases received by FLS in 2005-06 was 23% higher than the number of new cases received in 2001-02. The FLS has responded to this by redeploying resources from other forensic areas into the DNA area, developing new DNA technologies, and enhancing processes. As well, the FLS uses individual and unit performance measures to ensure maximum performance, and a priority rating system to ensure that the most serious cases are handled first.

During the past two years, the FLS has in fact exceeded the casework quotas specified in the federal-provincial-territorial biology casework analysis agreements, BCAAs, for each province and territory. As well, it should be noted that due to reorganization and process enhancements, the Forensic Laboratory Services was capable of meeting these quotas while engaged with the Pickton murder investigation in British Columbia, to which the FLS contributed significantly.

There is, however, a greater demand for DNA casework than the Forensic Laboratory Services has the present capacity to handle. To respond to this capacity issue, in part, the RCMP will increase funding to the FLS at the beginning of the 2007-08 fiscal year. This will assist the FLS to reduce DNA casework response times within the existing demand, but will not be sufficient to handle increased casework demands imposed by legislative changes resulting from Bill C-18. An enhancement of the DNA Identification Act via Bill C-18 will have an impact on the FLS.

An analysis of conviction rates for primary and secondary designated cases showed that changes to the legislation will increase the FLS caseload by approximately 42% annually. This is a conservative calculation dependent upon the present rates of conviction and does not reflect the number of investigations undertaken. A change in federal or provincial government priorities or a shift in judicial priorities would see an increase in this number. As well, the number of convicted offender samples submitted to the National DNA Data Bank will increase by at least one third, again based upon conviction rates.

The FLS will have to increase its human and scientific resources to meet this enhanced demand. It has estimated that acquisition of staff and equipment will require approximately $15 million just for the Forensic Laboratory Services--$15 million in the first year, with an ongoing budget of about $7 million. It must be recognized, however, that it will require between 18 and 24 months from time of funding before operational benefits are realized. Activities pertaining to hiring staff, training, equipment acquisition, set-up and validation, and accreditation are protracted and must be undertaken in a manner that assures quality and effectiveness.

The RCMP is committed to the provision of safe homes and safe communities and is eager to work with the government to enhance this very important forensic and law enforcement tool.

Thank you very much.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Thank you, Mr. Buckle.

Was there any other presentation from the RCMP at this point, or can we go to questions?

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A/Commr Joe Buckle

I think we can go to questions, Mr. Chair.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Then we shall.

Ms. Jennings.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Thank you very much for your presentation.

You talked about the increased costs should Bill C-18 be adopted as it now is, where you have primary and secondary infractions that become reason for the collection of DNA that is added to the National DNA Data Bank. When you say you would need approximately $15 million, is that $15 million in addition to your current operating budget in the first year?

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A/Commr Joe Buckle

That's correct.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

When you say ongoing operations will require $7 million, is that $7 million in addition to your current operating budget?

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A/Commr Joe Buckle

That's correct.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

In the first year of operation, given the conservative estimates and calculations you've made, what would be the total operating budget?

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A/Commr Joe Buckle

In the first year, with the $15 million for the set-up, the total operating budget would be about $25 million.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Okay, and then $25 million. So that means right now your operating budget is approximately $10 million.

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A/Commr Joe Buckle

That's correct.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

That means in subsequent years, and that's if Bill C-18 is adopted as is and your conservative calculations prove to be right on the money, your operating budget, not accounting for inflation, etc., would be $17 million.

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Forensic Science and Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A/Commr Joe Buckle

That's correct.