House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was dna.

Topics

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, while I have tons of respect for the hon. member, his comments on providing resources to back up the alleged intent of the government to be the law and order government are quite laughable.

In fact, in our community, which we share, the RCMP is the municipal police force and is without adequate funding. It has no hope on the horizon of receiving more funding to patrol our streets to effect some of the laws that are being passed here.

Foremost in my mind are the comments that have been made in this House regarding the eradication of the Law Commission and how these laws might have been made better had we had a Law Commission going forward.

Finally, cutting $4.6 million from the RCMP budget for trial roadside detection of impaired drivers is enough to make any good-feeling citizen on the law and order agenda, and the people of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, even madder.

On the principal question, he will recognize that the comments made by all members on this side indicate that we are interested in moving good bills forward and stopping bad bills. That is what we will continue to stand for.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure today of speaking in favour of sending Bill C-18 to committee.

As has already been stated, the National DNA Data Bank is a great success. I understand that the DNA data bank came in on time and on budget. It works closely with the forensic laboratories, not only those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but also with the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto and the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale in Montreal. In turn, the laboratories work closely with local law enforcement.

Biological samples from convicted offenders are collected by police who have been specifically trained to do so. These biological samples include blood, which is the preferred substance to analyze and accounts for more than 98% of samples submitted for analysis. Buccal swabs and hair provide the other 2%.

The convicted offender biological samples are collected and submitted to the National DNA Data Bank to be processed into DNA profiles. This profile information is then entered into the combined DNA index system, or CODIS, a software package that stores and compares the profiles. CODIS was developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice and provided to the NDDB at no cost. The software is the universally accepted standard for forensic laboratories, which allows the NDDB to participate in the sharing of information consistent with signed international agreements.

The police and forensic scientists also attend at crime scenes. When they find DNA and they have a suspect, they can apply to a judge for a DNA warrant to confirm or disprove that the crime scene DNA and the suspect's DNA are the same.

Every day suspects are being cleared by DNA. We must not underestimate the benefit that this provides to the Canadian justice system. It is unimaginable now, in a case such as that of Steven Truscott, that DNA would not be used. Avoiding a miscarriage of justice is vital to maintaining the confidence of Canadians in the justice system.

When police do not have a suspect but they have DNA, the forensic laboratories analyze it and upload the DNA profile to the crime scene index, which is a separate electronic database. The NDDB retains this electronic information as well as basic details such as the date, location of donor laboratory and a unique number identifier that allows information to be compared by the donor laboratory in the event of a future match.

The hits that the NDDB generates can be to a crime scene where the DNA profile has been in the crime scene index for many years. Of course, the match is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning and police must follow up on the match and build their case. Depending on where the DNA was found, there may be an innocent explanation. However, there is also the potential for convicting an offender years later.

The collaboration of the laboratories has had great benefits for Canada. The more crime scene samples that are uploaded to the data bank by the forensic laboratories and the more convicted offender samples there are in the data bank, the more successful the entire DNA system will be. According to the latest annual report of the national DNA data bank, there were only 25 forensic hits in the first fiscal year that the data bank was open. In 2005-06 there were 2,323 forensic hits, almost a hundredfold increase.

The National DNA Data Bank continues to increase the pace at which it makes forensic matches. In the past six months, it has provided police with investigative leads in some 50 murders, 18 attempted murders, 110 sexual assaults and 80 robberies.

Let me give a real life example of the value of one of the DNA matches. This case is taken from the 2005-06 report of the National DNA Data Bank.

On April 23, 2002, the family of a 29-year-old man reported him missing in Dawson Creek. Police determined that he was last seen nine days earlier at a local pub with two unidentified men. The two men were tentatively identified and associated to a nearby residence. When police arrived at the residence, however, it was abandoned.

Finding bloodstains in several places throughout the home, police suspected foul play and sent the evidence for DNA analysis. They also obtained biological reference samples from the missing man's parents to help with identification. The RCMP forensic laboratory services completed the analysis and confirmed that some blood at the residence matched to the missing man, and there was also blood from another unknown person.

The unknown DNA profiles obtained from the crime scene were uploaded into the National DNA Data Bank's crime scene index. Unsure of the man's fate, police continued to follow all clues to find him and his assumed assailants. In their pursuit of the two men last seen with the missing man, police were led to an abandoned vehicle in Mayerthorpe, Alberta. Several blood soaked household items were found in the vehicle, along with the missing man's knapsack. These items were sent to a regional forensic laboratory for analysis. A comparison of the crime scene DNA profiles with that of the missing man yielded match. This supported the evidence that the police were dealing with a homicide and not a missing persons case.

Shortly after, a man walking down the street in Saskatoon was violently assaulted by two individuals who were apprehended and charged with attempted murder. DNA collection warrants were executed for the suspects in this case. The NDDB linked the DNA profile of one of the suspects in Saskatoon to the unknown DNA profile from the abandoned residence in Dawson Creek.

It was confirmed that the missing man left the pub with the two suspects and proceeded to the residence. An argument had ensued and the victim was stabbed to death and dismembered. During the attack, one of the suspects cut himself, which became the key clue that allowed the NDDB to link the suspects to the crime scene. The suspects in Saskatoon were charged and convicted of second degree murder.

Undoubtedly, the early apprehension of offenders such as these made possible by DNA matching has prevented thousands of crimes. Truly, DNA makes an almost unequalled contribution to the safety and security of Canadians.

As an aside, I am rereading a classic by Truman Capote titled In Cold Blood. It would have been interesting to see in the novel how DNA would have affected that case.

In the last Parliament, relatively modest improvements to the DNA system were presented to the government in Bill C-13. The standing committee held extensive hearings and considered a wide range of issues. Major amendments were adopted by the House standing committee on May 5 and 10, 2005. The amendments reflected a compromise that secured the support of all parties for its passage. The bill was then adopted by the House on May 12 and because of the impending budget vote, rushed through.

The provisions of the bill dealing with the expansion of the retroactive scheme, which makes about 4,400 more offenders eligible to be sampled, the procedure for dealing with DNA orders that appear on their face to have been improperly made, for example, defective orders, and the procedures for dealing with moderate DNA matches came into force on royal assent. Because of the rush to have the bill passed, the normal opportunity to scrutinize the amendments, consider necessary consequential amendments, determine the full implications of the changes and make corrections at report stage on third reading or in the Senate were not available. The bill as passed, therefore, contains serious problems that should be resolved prior to proclamation.

In the minister's speech, he set out the many important provisions of Bill C-13, which are not yet in force. Undoubtedly, the most important are the changes in the definitions of primary and secondary designated offences. When they come into force, there should be a great increase in the number of offenders who are ordered to provide a DNA sample and the number of crimes for which DNA profiles can be uploaded to the crime scene index. As we know, the more profiles in the data bank, the more matches it will generate.

It is therefore important that we give this bill thorough but swift consideration. I do not believe that there is a real divide on this bill in the House, just as there was not a real division over Bill C-13. All of us want to make as much use of DNA in solving crimes as we can while respecting the charter and privacy rights of Canadians.

I also believe there is a desire to proceed soon to the full review of the DNA system that was often alluded to in the debates and hearings on Bill C-13 as being the proper forum for consideration of major changes.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the Forensic Science Service in 2004-05 reported that it had 40,000 new detections, including 165 homicides, 100 attempted murders, 570 rapes, 5,600 burglaries and 8,500 auto crimes. The laws under which it operates are far different from ours. The British take DNA at the time of fingerprinting and keep DNA profiles regardless of the outcome of the criminal prosecution just as we keep fingerprints but not DNA.

In Canada, by contrast, DNA orders can only be made against a convicted offender for a limited number of offences and judges retain the discretion to refuse to make the order.

Bill C-18 does not change these fundamentals of the Criminal Code DNA provisions and the DNA Identification Act. As I have said, the five year parliamentary review, which has yet to begin, is the proper forum for considering far-reaching changes. Bill C-18 is limited to technical improvements to the existing system.

I would like to conclude with just a few words about the attitude of the courts to DNA. I believe it has been evolving rapidly as the courts become ever more aware of the benefits of DNA and the certainty it provides in identifying perpetrators. The minister has already spoken of the ringing endorsement of the present legislation by the Supreme Court in the Rodgers case

While Rodgers was a case dealing with the retroactive provisions of the DNA bank scheme, there can be little doubt that the existing scheme is in its entirety constitutional. I am informed that over the past five years there have been dozens of challenges to the DNA legislation at the trial court level and appeals to the courts of appeal of almost all provinces.

As the Ontario Court of Appeal held in a case called Briggs, the state interest in obtaining DNA profile from an offender is not simply law enforcement by making it possible to detect further crimes committed by this offender. Rather, the provisions have much broader purposes, including the following: to deter potential repeat offenders; promote the safety of the community; detect when a serial offender is at work; assist in the solving of cold crimes; streamline investigations; and, most important, assist the innocent by early exclusion for investigative suspicion or in exonerating those who have been wrongly convicted.

I believe we, in the House, recognize the benefits of DNA evidence and we should do everything we can to foster its use. In the short term, I believe we must pass Bill C-18. In the long term, we must work together, through the parliamentary review, to determine the best possible system for Canada and then proceed to make whatever changes the committee may suggest.

I am pleased to urge the House to pass Bill C-18 at second reading.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification.

Bill C-18 is largely a technical bill but it builds on some initiatives from the last Parliament before it was dissolved when Parliament passed Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the DNA Identification Act and the National Defence Act. This was the Liberal government's original DNA data bank legislation. There was some keen interest to have this legislation passed quickly and efficiently for a couple of reasons.

There were a number of high profile people being detained in penitentiaries who were about to be released, and without this legislation in place they would have been able to have left the penitentiary without giving a DNA sample.

DNA samples are very helpful to law enforcement to solve crimes and to prevent crimes. That was one of the imperatives that led to a very speedy passage with all-party agreement in the House and I think all-party agreement in the other place and royal assent in the last Parliament. It was done very quickly.

There were amendments made at the committee level that were quite complicated. I think in the rush to get the bill through, there were some slip-ups in some of the language in the bill. This bill is designed to correct some of those technical problems with original BillC-13.

Bill C-13 in the last Parliament was a very good example of how parliamentarians of all stripes in the committee worked together. The Liberal government had a minority government at the time, but at committee we worked together to make changes to the bill, which I think improved the bill and helped its speedy passage through the House of Commons and the other place.

To give some background, before the bill came to Parliament and to committee, the RCMP were reporting that only about 50% of the DNA samples that were meant to be going to the RCMP DNA data bank were actually getting into the data bank. This was a cause for concern by myself and others. At the time I happened to have the honour to serve as parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, so it was an issue that I took up with the justice department and others. I could not quite understand why only 50% of the DNA samples were finding their way into the DNA data bank.

It turns out that the way the law was written, the judges had discretion as to what DNA would be passed on to the DNA data bank and what DNA would not be passed on to the DNA data bank. I found this quite puzzling because I could not ascertain under what circumstances the judge in his or her wisdom would decide that it was not in the public interest to pass the DNA of a convicted person to the DNA data bank.

In fairness to all concerned, following the establishment of the DNA data bank, there was some confusion among the crown prosecutors and judges. The DNA order has to be an order that is presented to the trial judge asking the judge to order that the DNA sample be taken and passed to the DNA data bank and there was a lack of communication or a lack of education on what DNA had to be passed over to the RCMP DNA data bank.

As I recall, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Justice mounted a program to get the word out to the judiciary and to the prosecutors that this order had to be prepared by the crown prosecutors and presented to the judge before the DNA could be taken and submitted to the DNA data bank.

When the bill was sent to committee, these questions were asked. As a result of a lot of collaboration among all parties, the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the NDP, we made some significant amendments to the bill.

We started out with a very long list of crimes where the judge would not have any discretion, where the DNA would automatically have to be taken and sent to the DNA data bank. There was much discussion around this point with the Department of Justice. The view was that there was a possibility if we included all crimes, this would be challenged under the charter and the good parts of the bill would be tossed out with the parts that would be turfed out in any sort of challenge under the charter.

At committee we put a little water in our wine and we said that for the most heinous of crimes there had to be no discretion, in the judgment of the committee members. For acts such as murder and rape, what the bill did when it was amended was it removed any judicial discretion so that the DNA automatically had to go to the DNA data bank.

That was a very proud moment for me. It really pointed out that even though there was a lot of discussion that the minority Parliament was not working at a certain level, I felt that at the committee level, certainly at the justice subcommittee level, there was a lot of good cooperation. I think we improved the legislation in front of the committee. We did some other work with respect to child pornography. Subsequently Parliament was dissolved and we had an election. But for Canadians this committee was working very well.

I was very proud that we were able to pass Bill C-13 which received royal assent. There were some technical matters which came to light through the Department of Justice later and that is what the current bill is meant to reflect. Bill C-13 was a follow-up on our Liberal government's commitment to law and order to give the police the tools they need to fight crime.

That is why I am sorely disappointed that the Conservative government is seeking the scrapping of the gun registry. We know the gun registry is working very efficiently, very effectively. Yes it is true that it cost too much to develop, but those are sunk costs. Anyone who knows anything about economics or finance knows that once there is a sunk cost there is not really much point in going back and analyzing what to do about that cost because it is historic. The question before us is whether the gun registry performing today a useful purpose, and the answer is a resounding yes.

For example, law enforcement officers are making something in the order of 6,000 inquiries per day on the gun registry data bank. Do law enforcement officers have the time to sit around and tinker away on the computer if it is not relevant information for them? They are very busy people. They have many different competing priorities. They have to decide which call to take. They have to rationalize that. Do we think they sit at a computer keyboard and tinker around for the fun of it? Of course not. We know for sure that especially in domestic violence situations the police find this to be a very useful tool.

Does it mean if they go to the gun registry and the registry shows that there are no guns registered at a particular residence that they can stroll in and be happy campers and not worry? Of course not. Police officers across Canada are not so naive, but by the same token, if they go to the gun registry data bank and discover there are guns in that residence, it helps them establish their modus operandi of how they are going to approach that situation.

I will give another example of why DNA and the gun registry are so important in terms of law enforcement. The gun registry supports something in the order of 7,000 or 8,000 affidavits to date that they have signed which has helped crown prosecutors obtain convictions. The gun licensing component of the Firearms Centre screens out many individuals who would otherwise like to have a gun but because of certain instabilities or criminal records in their past, they are precluded from owning a gun. In fairness to the Conservative government, it is not suggesting that we ban or do away with gun licensing, but it is making a serious mistake with respect to the long gun registry.

The other myth I would like to focus on again today is that some would argue that long guns are not involved so much in criminality, that they are owned by people in rural parts of Canada. The facts are just the opposite. Long guns are involved in more homicides and suicides in Canada, or in just as many as are handguns. Handguns are more of a problem in the urban centres and long guns are a problem in the rural parts of Canada.

I certainly will be supporting the DNA bill because Bill C-13 was very important in terms of law enforcement and law and order in Canada. This bill tidies up some of the language, some very important language, so that the bill can be that much more effective.

I will expand a bit on Bill C-13 and the list of those offences which the committee and ultimately Parliament and the other place approved in this legislation. The offences that were put on the list of those where a judge would have no discretion with respect to the DNA that would have to go into the DNA data bank, we included crimes like murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. Internet luring of children, child pornography and organized crime offences were also added to the list of designated offences for a data bank order. This is absolutely necessary so that the DNA can be used by law enforcement agencies to either solve crimes or prevent crimes.

I was very proud of the work of that committee. Now I am very happy to speak in support of this bill because it makes the technical changes that are needed to make the original bill even more efficient and more effective.

By way of example, Bill C-18 makes it an offence to fail to appear for DNA sampling. It is an important part. The court can order a DNA sample, but if the individual does not appear, how could one possibly get a DNA sample? There are sanctions for not appearing for a DNA sample.

The Conservative government, and frankly I support what it is doing here, has also added some additional heinous crimes to the list where a judge would have no discretion but to send the DNA sample to the DNA data bank. Those offences include attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Those also are covered by the retroactive provisions which apply to offenders convicted of a single murder, sexual offence or manslaughter prior to June 30, 2000 when the legislation that enabled the creation of the national DNA data bank came into force.

It sounds like a lot of gobbledygook, but in fact these are very important technical changes and I am hoping the House will support them. The purpose of the bill is that the government is trying to capture as much DNA as possible to get into the data bank so that law enforcement can use that DNA to fight crime and to prevent crime.

Another example of one of the technical fixes to the legislation is that it ensures information provided by the national DNA data bank can be used to investigate all criminal offences. It may sound somewhat obvious, but if it is not written in the legislation, then someone will argue that the DNA could be used to investigate certain offences but not other offences. It makes this particular point crystal clear.

I will go back for a moment to the list of crimes where the judge has no discretion. The committee at the time had somewhat of a debate on that issue. Frankly, I support a certain level of judicial discretion but if, for whatever reason, the Parliament of Canada believes judicial discretion is not being exercised in a way that is appropriate in the judgment of parliamentarians, then I think it is quite appropriate for Parliament to remove that judicial discretion.

This is not for petty crime where the DNA must go to the data bank. This is not for shoplifting, nor is it for someone who is caught speeding. This is for murder, rape, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and a whole list of other heinous crimes. I think it is quite appropriate that judges are required without discretion to ensure the DNA goes to the DNA data bank.

Another example of one of the technical amendments to this bill that is before us today is to simplify the procedure to destroy samples taken from those convicted of an offence not intended to be included in the DNA data bank. Again, it is somewhat a procedural but an important procedure so that samples can be destroyed if they are not intended to be included in the data bank.

When we get into DNA there is often this debate, a debate we had in committee as well, about the privacy issues of Canadians. Privacy is an important aspect that we need to consider as parliamentarians.

I do not pretend to reflect the views of all Canadians on this point, but if someone wants to take a follicle of my hair and put it into a DNA data bank, frankly, I say go to it. However, I understand and respect that some people might see this as impacting their privacy, which is why the legislation that we bring before Parliament needs to be mindful of those considerations. We need to ensure that only DNA that is required by legislation and that meets certain tests of Parliament is actually proceeded with.

Another example of one of the technical changes in this bill is to help to ensure that the DNA data bank orders can be carried out even when, for logistical reasons, it may not be possible to take the sample at the precise time set out in the order. Again, this is somewhat procedural. Unfortunately, there is a whole body of jurisprudence and lawyers who will try to find reasons why their client should not be required to submit a DNA sample. They might say that they could not comply with the order in the timelines provided in the order.

This provision makes it clear that even though it is not at the precise time that is laid out in the order, the DNA must be presented.

It also clarifies definitions in procedures for obtaining a DNA data bank order and for sharing information with international law enforcement partners. There is a whole range of sharing of information that goes on between Interpol and other law enforcement agencies around the world and one has to be mindful of the privacy concerns of Canadians. This amendment makes it clear what the rules are for the sharing of that sort of information.

I hope the House passes this bill. It would be helpful to our law and order agencies to prosecute and prevent crimes. I am sure our party will work with all sides of the House to ensure the speedy passage of this bill. I will be supporting the bill and I hope others will as well.

Business of the House
Government Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practices of the House, during debate on the take note debate tonight, the Chair shall not receive any quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know legislation can be improved with a review. When the former Liberal government introduced this registry in 2000, a promise was given that a review would be done in five years. We were all looking forward to the opportunity to consult with police, police service boards and investigators. We were also looking forward to looking at other jurisdictions in other countries to see what part of the registry could be improved.

I think every member of the House would like to add missing persons and found human remains DNA indices to the National DNA Data Bank, the Lindsey law. Lindsey's mother, Judy Peterson, has been saying for a long time that it would be useful to have this kind of addition, either through present legislation or new legislation, and include it in the National DNA Data Bank.

Why is the review not being done? Why are we not pushing for a review? We were supposed to get a review in 2005 but it did not get done under the former Liberal government. I do not see it happening under the Conservative government.

Does the hon. member think that review is important so we do not do things in a piecemeal format? Would he support a separate registry or the same registry to allow for the taking of DNA of a missing person or found human remains?

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the act came into force in 2000 and there was to be a review in five years but the review has not taken place.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

5 p.m.

An hon. member

It is overdue.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Yes, it is overdue. We should be reviewing it because it is an act of Parliament. I would support a move in that direction.

As I was the parliamentary secretary at the time, I know there was extensive consultation on Bill C-13 but that does not replace a parliamentary review. I think the point is well taken.

I was quite involved with respect to the missing persons index and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands was the person promoting it. He has, of course, had to pass it on to someone else now. At that point in time the federal government supported the missing persons index. However, the issue involved jurisdiction. In other words, the impetus really had to come from the provinces and territories because it fit within their constitutional jurisdictions.

However, extensive consultations were held across Canada with the provinces and territories to sort that out and to see what sort of support would be provided by them. I think it was put on the justice minister's agenda with his or her colleagues across Canada. There were some issues around privacy but the general view was that those issues were surmountable.

I certainly support the missing persons index. However, it is critical that we have the provinces onside and the modus operandi laid out very clearly as to how it will work, how the information will be fed into the DNA data bank and how it will be used.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I noticed in my hon. friend's speech that he brought in some analogies to the rather disastrous federal long gun registry. One thing he did not note was the difference in costs between this DNA registry and the long gun registry which cost approximately $1 billion. This registry will be considerably more reasonable in its overall costs.

I wonder if he might comment on the costs since the original cost for the long gun registry was supposed to be $2 million. Now that we have a different government in place perhaps this registry will not experience the same cost overruns as the previous attempts at a registry.