An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the DNA Identification Act and the National Defence Act

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Irwin Cotler  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the provisions in the Criminal Code respecting the taking of bodily substances for forensic DNA analysis and the inclusion of DNA profiles in the national DNA data bank and makes related amendments to the DNA Identification Act and National Defence Act. It clarifies that the forensic DNA analysis of the bodily substances taken from convicted offenders for the purposes of the national DNA data bank will be conducted by the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In particular, the enactment

(a) adds offences to the lists of designated offences in the Criminal Code, including participating in the activities of a criminal organization, the commission of an offence for a criminal organization, instructing the commission of an offence for a criminal organization, uttering threats and criminal harassment;

(b) reclassifies robbery and break and enter into a dwelling-house as primary designated offences;

(c) provides for the making of DNA data bank orders against a person who has committed a designated offence but who was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder;

(d) provides for the making of DNA data bank orders against a person who committed one murder and one sexual offence at different times before the coming into force of the legislation;

(e) includes several repealed sexual offences (indecent assault male, indecent assault female and gross indecency) as designated offences and sexual offences referred to in paragraph 487.055(3)(b) of the Criminal Code;

(f) provides for the review of defective DNA data bank orders and for the destruction of the bodily substances taken under them;

(g) compels offenders to appear at a certain time and place to provide a DNA sample; and

(h) allows for a DNA data bank order to be made after sentence has been imposed.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

February 26th, 2009 / 9:15 a.m.
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Vincenzo Rondinelli Defence Lawyer, Criminal Lawyers Association

Good morning.

I'm here this morning on behalf of the Criminal Lawyers Association. I'll give you a bit of a background. Our organization is comprised of about 1,000 defence lawyers across Canada. One of our mandates is to provide some missions to committees such as this, and also to sit in advisory capacities with the judiciary and crowns. As well, and like crown attorneys across this country, our members are really on the front line of the criminal justice system, and obviously legislation of this sort impacts our members quite drastically.

Before I begin my submissions, I just want to mention that due to short notice for me to attend today, it was a bit of a challenge to get written material in time to have it translated. I understand that the material I did provide is in the process of being translated, and you should be receiving it in the near future. In terms of my submissions, I'll keep them in a more brief compass for the purposes of the ten minutes I have this morning.

One of our main concerns, and it has been a concern since the inception of the data bank, is what we've called for a long time this concept of legislation creep. If we look at the history of DNA legislation in this country, we see that we have gone from a very restricted type of individual or offender whom we were looking at putting into the data bank to a much broader spectrum of offenders. In 1995, when the first piece of legislation that dealt with DNA warrants came out, it was really restricted to the most violent of offenders, and those of sexual offences.

Then, when we moved to the year 2000 and the data bank was created, the spectrum evolved again into a broader picture of offenders that not only included these primary and secondary designated offences, as they were categorized, but also included offences such as driving offences, where dangerous or impaired driving causing bodily harm made its way into the legislation.

Then we see a much broader sweep, in my submission, with the introduction of Bill C-13 last year. Not only were there a number of new offences listed but an even broader category of offences where if it's preceded by indictment then the punishment is at least five years were also able to be put into the data bank. We see that a different type of offender and those being found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder were also in the realm of being able to be put in the data bank.

Again, in our submission, you're seeing the trend where it really started off as a very limited scope. The balance we struck as society with the obvious privacy concerns and the civil liberty issues that were on the table from day one is that if we are going to take something that has been termed the blueprint of life, we're going to restrict it to those members of society who really have a lower expectation of privacy because of what they've done and what they're capable of doing in the future. The balance was struck that we're going to restrict it to the murderers and the sexual assault type of offenders, and then, as I mentioned, the pendulum seems to have swung to a much broader area.

Leaving aside the civil liberties scope or basic arguments that have been there since day one in terms of the privacy interests engaged in all of this and the information can be gleaned from a DNA sample and all that, I wanted to focus more on a practical aspect of what we're saying.

We're fortunate because the U.K. is well ahead in this area, as you've heard. Their data bank is close to five million now, and obviously a large percentage of their population is in there. The U.S. as well has a long experience with DNA data banks. We can learn things from their history in what has and has not been working.

One of the areas in our submission that should be paid close attention to is that the legislation creep isn't unique to this country. You've obviously seen in the U.S. and the U.K. in particular, they're getting DNA not only upon arrest but whenever an offence is recordable or arrestable and they're able to keep this in the DNA data bank, with some limitations.

If I have time, I'll get into the European Union decision that came out in December, which was quite a blow to the U.K. database as it is today.

What we see, at least in some of the empirical evidence that came out of there, and again in the two practical areas that I'd like to deal with briefly, is the following. Can we handle any expansion? When we're dealing with it, yes, it sounds great to include all these new offenders in the database, but on a practical, technical, and financial basis, can we handle the expansion? Secondly, is there really any value-added to expanding? Are there results being seen with a larger database?

Dealing with the first point, then, all of you may be aware of the 2007 Auditor General's report that found some issues dealing with backlog in our database. Samples not being processed in time created some backlogs.

Again, this is not unique to this country. The U.S. is plagued with database logjams, to the point that they have put federal legislation in place that is called the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act. I can't remember the criteria off the top of my head, but states can apply for federal funding to help them deal with the backlog they've generated in their own states because of expanding a DNA data bank to include more types of offenders. Obviously that's going to create more work, more budget constraints, and everything else that goes into that type of decision.

The U.K. isn't without their issues of backlog either. While the U.K. is close to five million, the U.S. is probably closer to four million these days. As I understand it, our data bank is at about 155,000.

This leads me to the second point in terms of whether further expansion may actually yield results. Again, it's helpful to look at some of these studies coming out of the U.K. and the U.S. A lot of the stuff I mention is mentioned in my materials, so at some point you will be getting the references for where these studies can be found.

A recent study in the U.K. found that even though their database was expanding by about 650,000 profiles a year, they were getting crimes solved in only one in eight hundred cases. Basically, they're not really getting as much value-added from the database as they did at the beginning, when it was restricted to the most violent and sexual assault types of offenders.

In our submission, that should come as no surprise. When you look at the database and whether it's going to plateau at some point, where you're really not going to get much more bang for your buck in terms of solving crimes, you look at the types of offenders. Statistics in the past have always demonstrated that it is the most violent or the sexual offenders that are the highest recidivists, so having them already in the data bank....

A lot of good things have been done in terms of tweaking the data bank, even in a retroactive aspect, as we've heard already this morning. Before, they would have had to commit two or more murders, but now that has changed to one, and rightly so in terms of how the legislation was put in place. Anyone who commits murder should be in the data bank. That's obviously been justified on a charter basis. But when you start including all these other offenders and at the end of the day you're not getting results, it shouldn't be a surprise, because the recidivists, as I've said, have always fallen into the category of the most violent or sexual offenders.

One of the difficult things for us in Canada, I guess, when we look at the statistics, or at least at what is provided at this point, is to see what sort of value we're getting. All I can really go with is what's on the website of the national data bank, or, as they term it, the “National DNA Data Bank Investigations Assisted”. They have a total of 11,126 as of February 13, 2009. It's broken down into some of the offences where they say they have been assisted.

Now, the question we usually have is what does that really mean? There are no statistics that we've been able to find in terms of which ones actually lead to convictions. Of those statistics, if you try to break those down with any types of statistics, depending on how you use them, they mean different things to different people. Did any of those investigations result in guilty pleas? Did they even result in convictions? Was there any other evidence that was first used to then use DNA? It's those types of questions. Again, as the statistics stand there's nothing really there to demonstrate that there really is a value added to expanding it any further, a value added in the sense that when you're looking at what the data bank was meant to do, and that is detection of crime and solving crimes and so forth, I think there should be more research done on the actual statistics.

I see I am running out of time. I'll end. I have it more fulsomely in my written submission.

As it stands and what it was meant to do in detecting crime and solving cold cases from the past, one glaring thing with the data bank is that there really is no opportunity or provision for access for exoneration. On what can be done and what can't be done with the crime scene index and the convicted offender index, there's nothing legislated in there that allows access to, for example, an innocence project, where they have some sort of file where they would really get some use out of accessing the data bank to see if there's some sort of match in whatever capability they can make of it. This is unlike some states in the U.S. As mentioned in the paper, there is the New Jersey database. They do have specific mention and provision for an innocence project, to be able to access it. If we look at what we want from the DNA data bank--and solving crime is obviously in everyone's best interest--exonerating the wrongfully convicted should at least play a part as well. Thankfully we don't have the type of track record that the U.S. does, but that doesn't mean wrongful convictions don't happen in Canada. We unfortunately have seen that.

Even in speaking with Alan Young, who is the director of the innocence project at the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, he mentioned that he does foresee a problem in the future. He has some files coming down the pipe where he thinks that he may have to somehow try to get access to the DNA database. As it stands right now, there is no access.

Those are our overall more over-reaching submissions. Thank you.

February 27th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
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Senior Legal Counsel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

David Bird

The only guarantees I could provide you with are those provided by the DNA Identification Act, which makes it a criminal offence for the commissioner or the commissioner's delegates to use DNA information that the agency has in the National DNA Data Bank for any other purpose than what's permitted by the DNA Identification Act. There are restrictions on the use, and there are restrictions on what can be communicated, and there are further restrictions domestically on further communication by those who receive that information from the RCMP.

So the current DNA Identification Act and the amendments in Bill C-13 are, in my view, very restrictive. The DNA information that the RCMP has can only be communicated as authorized by the DNA Identification Act, section 6, and any other communication is an offence. Similarly, any other research that could be done with the DNA profiles, except to derive a forensic DNA profile, for the purposes of DNA data banking would be an offence.

Those are fairly serious prohibitions, and that in itself should be sufficient, in my view, to satisfy Canadians' concerns that there may be unauthorized or illegal uses of DNA profiles in the National DNA Data Bank. We probably have the most robust genetic privacy regime in any DNA data bank where the people who are using the DNA do not know the personal identification of the person who has submitted it. So the data bank operates anonymously with respect to the personal information. All it has is genetic information, and it has a very restricted legal regime that allows it to communicate only for the purposes that the DNA identification allow it to, and that's to essentially compare the convicted offender index with the crime scene index and report a match, and the moderate matching provisions that allow it to ensure the question, do we have a match? That's the expansion of the regime.

Otherwise, that is essentially all the DNA data bank officials can do with the DNA they have in the National DNA Data Bank. They ask, do we have a match? And then if it does, it goes to another portion that doesn't have the genetic information. All they have is personal.

February 27th, 2007 / 9:45 a.m.
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Senior Legal Counsel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

David Bird

It seems to me--and this is my understanding--that these categories were really created by the committee itself when Bill C-13 was being debated.

The concern of the committee was that the data bank, the convicted offender index, was not receiving the volume of designated offences that we expected for primary designated offences. The committee, in its wisdom, chose to suggest that it would be useful to tell the courts that in certain cases they had no discretion.

February 15th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
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Senior Legal Counsel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

David Bird

Thank you, Mr. Hanger.

I would agree with the assertion that Mr. Thompson put forward, that it is a complicated process to determine what is or is not a designated offence. The courts have a problem determining that, because we do have a number of what we call non-designated offences issued for orders with which we have a problem. A number of historical offences, such as rape, are listed in the definition of primary and secondary designated offences, going back to the old sections of the Criminal Code. These are specifically listed in the definition.

Another principle is that where offences that existed in the Criminal Code historically have been renumbered due to a statute revision act, those references to the present law go back and apply to those old offences. So where we have those cases coming before us, we have to get out and do some research to determine whether or not those are non-designated offences or actually qualify under that provision.

So it is not an easy step, and the courts are grappling with it. We also have provisions in Bill C-18 , started in Bill C-13, to deal with this issue of how we handle these orders that we cannot justify in terms of that kind of rationale. That's one of the reasons for Bill C-18, to help us resolve those kinds of cases.

But it's not an easy situation for the courts to determine in all cases whether an offence on its face, where it's historical, qualifies for a DNA data bank order. There will probably be a discussion between the Crown and the defence and the court as to whether or not an order should be issued at that time.

February 15th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

First of all, there was no attempt to gloss over the Rodgers decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, but we believe the rationale in that particular case is consistent with the legislation you have before you. In any case, our analysis of this doesn't rest on one particular case. It's an overall analysis of this particular area of the law and what we believe, in our analysis, is going to withstand any particular challenge.

So I am quite confident that the bill you have before you is constitutional and will stand scrutiny, and quite frankly is an improvement that I think most people will agree with. It does two things: as you indicated, it clears up the Bill C-13 provisions that weren't or couldn't be enacted for a number of reasons, and I think it brings some other technical clarity to this bill that will withstand a challenge.

Mr. Yost has indicated to me that he would like to add some comments.

February 15th, 2007 / 10 a.m.
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Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

Greg Yost

I admit it's a bit difficult to get a definitive answer. There are always problems when you have a list. This list was first prepared in 1995, when we had DNA warrants. It was a list of offences for which a warrant could be sought. The same list was then adopted, but it was divided in two. At the time, the thought was to put more serious offences on it, followed by the others. Every time the Criminal Code is amended, offences are added, but sometimes people completely forget to put them on the list, and so on.

Bill C-13 made it possible to clean things up. I could obviously talk at length to determine whether we should add them to this list or not.

February 15th, 2007 / 10 a.m.
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Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

Greg Yost

Most of the 172 offences are punishable by indictment and carry prison terms of five years or more, like drug offences and so on.

So these offences would be added in Bill C-13, as amended by Bill C-18.

February 15th, 2007 / 10 a.m.
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Greg Yost Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

I'd simply like to clarify one point. The minister said that we were adding 172 offences; that's true, but they were added in the old bill, C-13. The present bill, C-18, adds no offences to the list that was previously adopted in Bill C-13.

February 15th, 2007 / 9:30 a.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I apologize if there was a bit of a mix-up. I had this on my schedule for 10 o'clock; this actually works out better. I'm now subject to House duty. This is a function that I didn't have as House leader or whip. I was always impressing upon others the importance of House duty, and now I have it myself. So this will work out very well.

I'm glad to be joined here by two colleagues who are experts on this particular piece of legislation, and I'm glad to have them at the table with me.

It's a pleasure for me, Mr. Chairman, to appear before you today to discuss a bill that addresses concerns that we all share about how to make better use of DNA to assist law enforcement, a bill that has been supported at second reading, I'm pleased to say, by all parties within the House.

As members are aware, the last Parliament passed Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the DNA Identification Act and the National Defence Act. As introduced, Bill C-13 included an expansion of the retroactive scheme to include persons convicted of a single murder and also of a single sexual offence committed at different times. There were some additions to the list of primary offences, including robbery and break and enter of a dwelling, and some additions to the secondary offence list, including criminal harassment and uttering threats.

Bill C-13 was the first opportunity Parliament had to consider the DNA scheme since it had come into force in June 2000. It was always recognized that the DNA legislation, which was pioneering, would have to be revisited in light of experience with its provisions, judicial considerations of the legislation, and developments in the rapidly developing DNA science and technology. Indeed, the legislation itself required a parliamentary review within five years, and I will come back to that point in a minute.

Even though Bill C-13 was never intended to replace the review, the hearings were quite extensive. Major amendments were made to the bill in committee that greatly extended the reach of the DNA databank provisions, including creating a new category of offences where judges would have no discretion and including all offences that are prosecuted by indictment and are punishable by five years under the Criminal Code as secondary designated offences.

The fact is, Mr. Chairman, most of Bill C-13 is not in force. There are technical glitches that must be addressed before it comes into force to make its provisions more effective in carrying out Parliament's intention.

The previous government recognized the need to make changes and introduced Bill C-72 in November 2005. Bill C-72 died on the order paper, and we have now introduced Bill C-18 to make the changes proposed in Bill C-72, along with other technical improvements in the legislation that were identified by federal and provincial officials after Bill C-72 was introduced into the House.

Bill C-18 is complicated in its drafting because some sections amend the former Bill C-13, so that when Bill C-13 is proclaimed, the new provisions will work better. I'm pleased to have the officials here with me who will be able to answer any questions you may have on how these two bills will work together.

To assist the committee, my department has prepared an unofficial consolidation to show how the Criminal Code DNA provisions will read if Bill C-18 is passed and then Bill C-13 is proclaimed, and I have provided copies to the clerk. There's also an excellent summary of the bill, including its background, which has been prepared, I understand, by the parliamentary information and research service.

Colleagues, as members know, DNA has had an immense impact on our criminal justice system. It has exonerated many people who were innocent but were convicted on the basis of witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. It has led to thousands of convictions where accused, who might have been able to go undetected in the past, are identified through DNA matches to known persons, thereby giving police the lead they need.

Moreover, cases in the past that might have gone to trial with the defence casting doubt on the accuracy of the victims' and other witnesses' recollections of events now are resolved by a guilty plea because the defence knows it cannot explain away the DNA evidence or cast doubt on the reliability of the science.

In the late eighties and early nineties, prosecutors began to use DNA, but it was only in 1995 that the Criminal Code first allowed for a judge to compel a person to provide a sample for DNA analysis, a provision that was unanimously upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.

It was in 1998 that Parliament passed the legislation necessary to take DNA samples from convicted offenders and to create the national DNA data bank to compare those samples with DNA samples found at crime scenes. I understand that members of the committee were able to tour the national DNA data bank yesterday. I'm sure you were impressed by the facility, and especially by the dedication and professionalism of the staff. It is certainly a most cost-effective institution, of which all Canadians can justly be proud.

The effectiveness of the data bank depends on the number of profiles in the convicted offenders index and the number in the crime scene index. The passage of this bill, and the subsequent proclamation of Bill C-13, will increase the number of samples in the convicted offenders index in a number of ways.

Firstly, it will create a new category of 16 extremely serious offences for which a judge will have no discretion not to make the data bank order. There are cases where persons convicted of these offences have not been required to provide a DNA sample for analysis.

Secondly, this bill will move some offences—most importantly, break and enter into a dwelling place and all child pornography offences—from the secondary designated offence list to the primary designated offence list, so that there will be a far greater likelihood that an order will be made.

Thirdly, this bill will add many more offences to the secondary designated offence list, including offences under the Criminal Code and under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that are prosecuted by indictment and that have a maximum sentence of five years or more.

Fourthly, it will provide many procedural changes to make it more likely that an order will be executed, for example, by allowing a judge to set a time and place for a person to appear to provide a DNA sample rather than having to do it at the time of sentencing, and providing for a warrant to be issued for the person's arrest if the person fails to show.

Fifthly, persons who are found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder will be brought within the scheme.

Sixthly, a new procedure will allow a judge to set a date for a hearing to consider whether to make a DNA order within 90 days of imposing a sentence. This is intended for the situations that inevitably occur in our busy courts, where a trial is concluded and a sentence is imposed but nobody remembered that a DNA order could be made in the particular case.

We cannot be certain how many more samples from convicted offenders will be submitted to the data bank for analysis and for uploading to the convicted offenders lists as a result of these changes. Much depends on the courts, prosecutors, and police. We trust they will use the new provisions to the fullest extent.

It seems certain, however, that these changes will at least double, and could triple, the number of samples coming in. I believe this legislation will have a similar effect on the number of samples being uploaded to the crime scene index. Certainly, the changes to the definitions of primary and secondary designated offences mean that samples from many more crimes could be uploaded, because the DNA data bank only uploads samples from those crime scenes involving a designated offence. For example, it will be possible, when the legislation comes into force, to upload samples from drug offences.

However, as I believe members are aware, the forensic DNA laboratories across Canada are struggling to meet the workload they now have. The advances in DNA technology mean that scientists can now extract DNA from small samples, such as the saliva that moistened glue on an envelope. Since police do not know which items found at a crime scene may have DNA, they may want dozens of items analyzed—chewing gum, beer cans, cigarette butts, clothing and sheets—in the hope of finding the one that has the offender's DNA.

Crime scene analysis is a labour-intensive process. Every step of the process has to be meticulously documented because the successful prosecution of an offence based on DNA evidence will require the police and the lab to show they did not mix up the samples or allow contamination of the sample. This is not work that can be done by untrained personnel or that lends itself to robotics. Accordingly, there is an almost insatiable demand by the police for DNA analysis and there is a limited supply of persons competent to do the crime scene analysis.

In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I would make two observations.

First, I believe it is urgent that Parliament pass Bill C-18 so that we can begin to feel its benefits. Certainly it may be possible that more extensive changes, then, are proposed in either Bill C-13 or Bill C-18 and can be made, particularly in light of the endorsement of the DNA legislation by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Rodgers case last April. However, such changes should be made after a full hearing of all the stakeholders and should not be grafted onto Bill C-18.

My second observation, Mr. Chairman, deals with how we might consider major changes to the DNA system. As members know, Parliament was supposed to have begun the parliamentary review no later than June 30, 2005. We are now more than 18 months past that date. Bill C-13 was intended to address the problems in the system identified in the first two years of the operation of the DNA data bank. It followed consultations undertaken in 2002, and at that time the consultation paper specifically stated that the consultations led by the Department of Justice in cooperation with the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada are part of the government's ongoing commitment to review and refine existing laws in response to evolving experience and stakeholder feedback. They are intended to support a parliamentary review scheduled for June 2005.

Many respondents to that consultation made it clear they wanted the whole system rethought and looked forward to the parliamentary review. The Canadian Association of Police Boards, for example, before answering the 12 questions in the consultation paper, stated:

The CAPB believes that at this juncture, the core issue is whether the incremental approach, such as is signalled in the consultation paper, remains appropriate, or whether legislators should instead be considering a much more comprehensive and wide scale use of DNA testing and collection.

How can we best advance the consideration of a comprehensive review that the CAPB and many others have been waiting for? Officials of the Department of Justice, the Department of Public Safety, the RCMP, and the national DNA data bank have all been ready for the beginning of the hearings since 2005. I understand they had prepared a discussion paper on the issues and a series of questions. Of course, Parliament was dissolved before the committee was able to conduct the review and the paper prepared by the officials has languished ever since. The paper could be quickly updated and form the basis of a consultation by the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Safety. The consultation could probably be completed by September, and the results of the consultation would form the basis for recommendations by government on how to change the legislation. Hearings on those recommendations would allow for a focused review on the use of DNA in the criminal justice system to begin late this year or early in 2008.

As always, I would appreciate the views of the committee on whether this would be an appropriate way to proceed.

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear again before this committee.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased this evening to speak to Bill C-18 which introduces a series of technical amendments to strengthen Canada's DNA databank laws. Canada is one of only a few number of countries in the world to have a National DNA Data Bank.

The legislation is similar to Bill C-72 introduced in the 38th Parliament. That Parliament came to an abrupt end when the current Conservative government collaborated with the other opposition parties to prematurely bring down the Liberal minority government.

These new legislative changes will allow for the implementation of Bill C-13, the former Liberal government's original DNA databank legislation. At the urging of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and police organizations across the country, the former Liberal government undertook a wide range of consultations with government agencies, privacy groups, and forensic and genetic organizations which led to the introduction and passage of Bill C-13. Bill C-13 is acknowledged as a key law enforcement tool.

Forensic DNA analysis has been instrumental not only in securing convictions but also in exonerating wrongly convicted individuals as some recent high profile cases have shown. Mr. Milgaard and Mr. Guy Paul Morin were just mentioned a few minutes ago.

As one of the most accurate methods of obtaining solid evidence in criminal investigations, deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA as it is commonly known, is found within the chromosomes of every living organism. Except for identical twins, it is believed that no two people have the same DNA. Based on that premise, DNA from bodily substances found at a crime scene may be compared with the DNA obtained from a suspect in order to determine whether both samples came from the same person.

The benefits of using such a system are numerous. Police are able to identify and arrest repeat offenders by comparing DNA information from a crime scene to the convicted offender's index. They are also able to determine whether a series of offences was committed by the same offender or whether more than one perpetrator was involved. Police are able to cross reference and link DNA profiles to other cases within and across jurisdictions.

Using DNA profiles help focus police investigations by more quickly eliminating suspects whose DNA is already in the databank in a case where no match from crime scene evidence is found.

Finally, the knowledge of DNA testing to solve crimes may also deter offenders from committing further crimes.

The National DNA Data Bank is maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and is used to assist Canada's law enforcement agencies in the investigation of a serious crime. The databank has two indices or data indicators. The crime scene index would contain DNA profiles from bodily substance found at the scene of a designated offence or within the body of a victim or any other person or thing associated with the commission of a designated offence.

The convicted offenders index contains DNA profiles taken from offenders either on their consent or following an order by the courts. It applies to offenders convicted of designated Criminal Code offences as well as people who are subject to the military code of service discipline and convicted of a designated offence under the National Defence Act.

We are keenly aware of the significant privacy concerns, particularly in relation to the retention of biological samples. Strong arguments have been advanced by the scientific community indicating that in its view the retention of biological samples is essential for the DNA databank to be able to adapt to technological changes in the future.

We are aware that the field of forensic DNA analysis is developing rapidly and forensic scientists have told us that as the technology evolves the DNA profiles of today are likely to become obsolete later on. Samples retained can be reanalyzed using new technology thereby insuring that Canada's databank is able to keep pace with technological advances.

Bill C-13, the DNA Identification Act, will authorize police to collect DNA samples from offenders convicted of designated criminal offences. The 38 primary designated offences were selected because of the nature of the offence, the seriousness of the offence, and the likelihood that some biological evidence would be left at the crime scene by the perpetrator. These include the most serious personal injury crimes including homicide and sexual offences. The legislation also provided for the inclusion of DNA to be collected from offenders of designated offences committed before the DNA Identification Act came into force.

The DNA databank is of little or no use for identifying serious offenders unless it already contains their DNA profile. There are criminological studies which suggest that offenders who commit serious offences have previously committed less serious ones. Some have advocated expanding the primary designated offence to include less serious offences.

In Canada, any broadening of the category of designated offences to provide for mandatory DNA sampling would be subjected to the charter of rights scrutiny. The taking of bodily substances from individuals is considered an intrusive process constituting a search. The challenge is to seek a reasonable balance between the rights of an individual and the desired protection of society.

Bill C-18 would add attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder or to cause another person to be murdered to the offences covered by the retroactive provisions which would apply to offenders convicted of a single murder, sexual offence or manslaughter prior to June 30, 2002, when the legislation establishing a DNA databank came into effect.

During the course of the original hearings on the DNA databank, consultations indicated strong support for the creation of a National DNA Data Bank, but there were also concerns regarding Canadian values of privacy, public protection and individual rights guaranteed by the charter.

Various interest groups, including the Privacy Commissioner and the Barreau du Québec, suggested the bill did not contain sufficient safeguards to protect the use of DNA profiles from the samples of victims, cleared suspects, and people who volunteered samples to help police in their investigations.

As a consequence, the former government brought a motion to clarify that access to the information contained in the crime scene index shall be permanently removed if it relates to a victim or person who has been eliminated as a suspect in a criminal investigation.

The current legislation also proposed a change permitting the destruction of samples when the provincial attorney general certifies that the order was made for an offence not intended to be included in the DNA databank. This simpler approach would eliminate the expense of having the attorney general make an application to a court to have the order quashed.

In certain circumstances, the legislation would also allow a court to require a person, who wishes to participate in a hearing relating to an order for the taking of samples of bodily substances for forensic DNA analysis, to appear by video links, such as a closed-circuit television or a similar means of communication, for the retroactive hearings. This would significantly reduce the costs and security associated with transporting the offenders eligible for retroactive sampling.

As we all know, crime and criminal activity knows no borders. Offenders must be apprehended and prosecuted whenever they are found and law enforcement agencies must have the tools to do so. This legislation would allow a foreign law enforcement agency, for the purpose of the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offence, to submit a DNA profile for analysis and would allow the results thereof to be communicated to the foreign government by the commissioner.

The series of technical amendments set out in Bill C-18 would strengthen our country's DNA databank law and would improve law enforcement, not only within this country but beyond our borders as well.

An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal 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 IdentificationGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal 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.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about Bill C-18.

I was just thinking two thoughts by way of introduction. The member for Wild Rose is right. The viewing public might think with the numbers C-18, C-72 and C-13 that this is just a well-dressed bingo game that we are playing, but it is actually very serious material.

The combination of these bills will culminate in a better method and tool for police officers and the police forces to do their jobs both in inculpating, finding the people who have done crimes, but also as my speech will indicate, exculpating people when they are actually not guilty.

I also might give my friend from Fundy Royal compliments on his good speech. I think that people in our community, he and I share an undefended border between Westmorland County and Albert County, share the same belief system and the same community values.

The people in Albert and Westmorland counties might think that the member for Fundy Royal and I are dominating the debate. I think it is just because we are on the committee together and we work on these subjects, not always together but certainly with the same view. That view is to make the laws of Canada better and more effective.

With that I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-18, a law designed to help implement the DNA databank legislative reforms. It does, however, and it must be said, build on the good Liberal Bill C-72. This was an excellent effort of the previous government to clean up some of these outdated and, frankly, awkward and lugubrious anomalies that exist in the current system.

The success of the DNA databank is impressive. It has provided critical evidence leading to convictions in nearly 2,300 serious crimes. It has been crucial in helping police solve over 300 armed robberies, 1,200 break and enters, 200 murders, and the member for Wild Rose might want this statistic, and 400 sexual assault cases in Canadian communities from coast to coast to coast. These are impressive numbers.

It is an extraordinary success. In addition, the national DNA data bank is one of the most powerful tools available to the country's police forces and courts. Even more importantly, the national DNA data bank makes it possible to exonerate innocent people and punish the real criminals.

We forget too often in the law and order rhetoric of the other side that there are people who have been falsely accused and falsely convicted of crimes. One of those falsely accused and falsely convicted cases is one too many. Not only is the DNA databank a great success story, it is an amazing example of technological use in the betterment of our justice system by providing indisputable evidence.

That is why I am pleased to see that the Conservative minority government introduced Bill C-18 and this is largely, as I indicated, based on former BillC-72 presented by the Liberal government.

The new modifications proposed by Bill C-18, and as they were in Bill C-72, will enable a number of modifications and ameliorations to the DNA databank in accordance with the proposed Liberal reform of the DNA databank included in Bill C-13 which received royal assent in May 2005. These improvements are eagerly awaited for by the police departments, the provinces and territories, and they cannot come too soon.

I must echo at this time two comments made by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. One of them is that the Criminal Code of Canada, a large document that is roughly incoherent notwithstanding that it was created by a Conservative justice minister in the late 1800s, has been added to like a big overgrown shrub that needs pruning and frankly needs to be completely redone. Those sentiments are not just those of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. The hon. members for Fundy Royal and for Wild Rose will know that the esteemed professor from the University of Ottawa, David Paciocco, suggested that to us just recently at the standing committee.

In the beautiful province of Quebec, respected professor Daniel Grégoire has also called for these reforms.

The second point about the need to pass the bill, which is why we are in favour of it, is that the justice committee is bogged down with so many justice bills right now that we have to be sure the government is sincere. I have heard the expressions of sincerity from the hon. members of the committee, whom I know well. I take it that the committee is sincere in passing the bill, in getting it through committee and back to the House and into effect. Since we all agree on its raw and innate goodness, let us get it through the committee quickly and get it passed into law.

Once again, the current minority government is trying to show, however, that its great legislative agenda is its own. In fact, any bill that comes before us that has more than three pages was probably one that was introduced by the Liberal government and died on the order paper, not one of the new bills produced by the Conservative department of haste in bills. I call it the hasty bill writing department that the government must have over there.

For those keeping score, this is one of the good bills. This was a Liberal bill that a new number has been attached to. We will happily call it a Conservative bill for now, if we can just get it through committee. That being said, the DNA data bank, just as any other governmental program or legislative measure, raises concerns about privacy.

As many examples have shown in the past, personal information can travel fast over the legal borders that exist and over all the limitations that we think exist as well. This is why I stress the need to strike a balance between all citizens' rights to privacy, including suspects, and the need to protect our society as a whole from crime and criminality.

The respect of privacy has been so far protected in the DNA data bank by ensuring that the identity of all suspects is kept confidential to ensure fair treatment. We must ensure that the proposed changes do respect the boundaries of the current privacy provisions in the law of Canada.

The technology used in DNA identification has proven itself on many occasions over the years. DNA identification can play a vital role in convicting or exonerating people suspected of major crimes including murder, as well as other crimes that caused the death of innocent victims.

The changes currently proposed by Bill C-18 will allow even more law-abiding citizens to be exonerated of charges and will strengthen the current legislation on DNA sampling.

In fact, attempting to escape or avoid having a DNA sample taken seems to me to be sufficient reason for doubt about the motivations and motives of a suspect.

There is certainly reason to wonder why a potential suspect would do everything possible to avoid having a DNA sample taken when, in fact, the sample could lift all suspicion from that person, if he is innocent, of course.

Since the DNA data bank is a fairly recent tool, it is understandable that it needs to be tweaked and bettered to ensure that it reaches its maximum potential.

This is why adding attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder to the offences covered by the retroactive provisions makes sense. The law is organic and it must grow with what is occurring out there in our communities.

Those added offences are serious. They are important. Those individuals, dangerous as they may be, should contribute a DNA sample to the DNA data bank to ensure that other crimes they might have committed in the past, or could commit in the future, will be linked to them and their DNA.

It is important for us on this side of the House to underline that we are a party, and I think all parliamentarians would agree, that respects and wants a rule of law in this country. We are a party--and I think as parliamentarians as well we could join in this statement--that wants a safer community. If the DNA data bank, improved as it would be by this bill, helps us catch more criminals who have done harm or who will do harm, this is a good thing.

Furthermore, I do believe that law-abiding citizens' rights to live peacefully should always be the first objective of all proposed legislation. It would not make sense to actually protect criminals from other criminal offences, and this is why it simply and clearly makes sense to ensure that information provided by the DNA data bank should be used, and needs to be, to investigate all criminal offences. Canadians will in the end benefit from criminals being better investigated, and perhaps having them linked to accusations and criminal offences as alleged would be a good thing as well.

Of course, these measures have to work both ways. Although law enforcement agencies should be able to use the DNA data bank information to investigate all criminal offences of certain individuals, it should not create some sort of tightly secured DNA data bank from which no information can be deleted. There is, in fact, a time limit to the efficacy of the DNA data bank.

Accessing and destroying specific information from the DNA data bank is essential to ensure errors can be corrected and true justice can be served. This is why simplifying the procedure for destroying samples also makes sense and is a very important part of an efficient DNA data bank.

As the DNA bank continues to grow with each sample taken, the usefulness of this extraordinary tool also continues to grow. It will make Canada a place where Canadian justice—as well as our police forces and investigators—is as fair and equitable as it can be.

The National DNA Data Bank is an impressive and wonderful resource. It is one of the most powerful investigative tools the justice system has ever had. Bill C-18 would make it even more efficient.

It is very important to underline for us on this side of the House that none of these bills being proposed by the government will work unless there are adequate resources to back them up. The only program statements that have been made with respect to justice in the past couple of weeks have been cuts.

Whether they are cuts to the judicial contestation program or cuts in the RCMP budget for a trial method of catching people at the roadside who are committing violations of our Criminal Code while impaired from drug abuse, these are the actions that back up the words of the government with respect to its law and order agenda.

I can only hope that through discussions such as these and the discussions that might happen at committee the government can see the folly of pronouncing grand statements about how the Conservatives are the stewards of law and order when they do not back that up with the allocation of resources necessary to put in effect the laws the Conservatives so proudly pronounce from every church steeple, city hall and mall encounter.

In short, and in conclusion, the Liberal Party and I, as a member of the justice committee, will in good faith give our word to support this bill in principle, to work diligently at committee to improve it and, more important, to move it along to put it into law, because after all, it is just Bill C-72 in new clothing. It was our idea. We put it together. Perhaps once, in a non-partisan way, I can say we do not care if the government gets the credit for it, because we know in our hearts that we put it into place.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 3:45 p.m.
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Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

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

The National DNA Data Bank is a great Canadian success story. It has assisted the police in their investigations of thousands of serious crimes. It is making an invaluable contribution to the safety of all Canadians. This bill can only increase that success.

Much of what I will say will be familiar to those who were involved in the debate on former bill C-13 in the last Parliament, and in particular, to members who were on the standing committee during its hearings into the bill because, as the minister stated, this bill paves the way for the proclamation of former Bill C-13. Nevertheless, it is important to outline for all members the way the legislation and the DNA system work.

The National DNA Data Bank carries out four principal functions and assists law enforcement agencies in solving crimes by one, linking crimes together where there are no suspects. The DNA data bank would advise the police forces involved so that they can compare notes on their respective investigations.

Two, it helps to identify suspects. When the DNA data bank provides a match between a crime scene profile and a convicted offender profile, the police agency is advised and it can focus its investigations on that identified offender.

Three, it assists by in fact eliminating suspects where there is no match between crime scene DNA and a profile in the data bank. This is often overlooked in debate about the DNA registry or amendments to the legislation impacting on the DNA registry, but a DNA registry has been used to eliminate suspects and in fact exonerate people. A lack of a match tells the police that none of the 100,000 convicted offenders whose DNA is in the data bank was involved.

Last, the DNA data bank is used to determine whether a serial offender is involved. The DNA bank would advise the police force that several crimes appear to have been committed by the same person. This is a very important fact indeed when police are assessing a certain criminal act as it is certainly helpful in their investigation to know whether it is someone who is acting in a repetitive or serial way.

As David Griffin, an executive officer of the Canadian Police Association, told the standing committee during hearings on former Bill C-13:

DNA analysis has proven to be a breakthrough technology in policing and the administration of justice. It is a science that assists in detecting and convicting offenders and acquitting the innocent. In serious police investigations, the cost savings in reducing the time spent on investigations and in identifying and confirming or eliminating suspects can be extraordinary. This is particularly important in crimes such as child abductions by strangers, where precious hours can be critical to finding the victim alive.

DNA orders can only be made against an offender for a limited number of offences. Judges retain a discretion to refuse to make an order in all but the most serious cases. The use of the information is strictly limited to the investigation of criminal offences. That again is an important fact that is often overlooked by those who would criticize the national DNA data bank, that it is only used for the investigation of criminal offences.

Bill C-18 does not change the fundamentals of the Criminal Code DNA provisions and the DNA Identification Act. The five year parliamentary review that is yet to begin is the proper form for considering more far-reaching changes. This bill is limited to technical improvements to the existing system.

The minister has already spoken of the ringing endorsement of the present legislation by the Supreme Court in the Rodgers case. Members can be assured that this bill is consistent with the charter. Moreover, the strong protections for privacy which are built into the scheme are also unchanged.

Canada has probably the strongest protections against the misuse of our DNA profiles, stronger in fact than any other country. In particular, the legislation provides that bodily samples collected pursuant to a DNA data bank authorization for inclusion in the National DNA Data Bank may only be used for forensic DNA analysis. Unused portions of bodily samples are required to be safely stored at the National DNA Data Bank.

Further, it is a criminal offence to use bodily samples or results of forensic DNA analysis obtained under a DNA data bank authorization other than for the transmission to the National DNA Data Bank. A breach of that provision is a hybrid offence that is subject to a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment when prosecuted by indictment.

Use of DNA profiles and bodily samples at the National DNA Data Bank is strictly limited to the narrow purposes of comparing offender profiles with crime scene profiles. Any use of stored information or bodily samples or communication of information that they may contain is strictly limited to the narrow identification purposes of the act. Again, this is something that is often lost on those who are critical of the data bank. In fact, any breach of those provisions is a criminal offence subject to a maximum of two years' imprisonment.

Communication of information as to whether a person's DNA profile is contained in the offenders index may only be made to appropriate law enforcement agencies or laboratories for investigative purposes or to authorized users of the RCMP automated conviction records retrieval system.

Although the seized bodily samples are retained for safekeeping in the DNA data bank after analysis, they may only be used for further forensic DNA analysis where significant technological advances have been made since the time the original DNA profile was derived. The results of such subsequent DNA analysis and any residue of the bodily sample are subject to the same rigid controls as the original profile and the original sample.

The sharing of DNA profiles with foreign governments and international organizations is only allowed for legitimate law enforcement purposes and only pursuant to specific agreements that must include safeguards to protect the privacy of the personal information disclosed.

I repeat that these legal protections are untouched by Bill C-18. All of those protections that protect the rights of Canadians against any possible misuse of the DNA data bank or any use outside of aiding our police in the protection of Canadians and society as a whole is unchanged and untouched by Bill C-18. In practice, they are buttressed by the procedural safeguards developed by the National DNA Data Bank.

By international agreement the DNA analysis process used by the data bank and other data banks in the world examines only a small segment of the entire human DNA blueprint. Scientists internationally have chosen 13 loci to analyze because there is a wide variation in those among the world's population. The DNA that is analyzed is often called anonymous DNA because apart from the ability to identify gender, there is no link to physical or medical attributes. Therefore, the profile generated by the DNA data bank will not reveal a person's hair, skin or eye colour.

The variations mean that except for identical twins, every person's DNA is unique. It is this power to identify a person beyond a shadow of a doubt that makes the DNA data bank and data collection such a valuable tool for law enforcement. It can identify an individual beyond a doubt.

The RCMP has developed internal procedures to ensure that there is no manipulation of the data. Upon receipt of a kit, the data bank separates the genetic material from the personal data. The biological sample and the identifying information are given the same unique bar code. The data bank keeps the biological sample and analyzes it. The personal information and full set of fingerprints of convicted offenders are sent to the Canadian Criminal Records Information Services, which retains them under strict security provisions. Therefore, the data bank has no idea whose sample it is analyzing or, in the case of a match, which convicted offender is linked to the crime scene.

It is important to emphasize that we have gone to great lengths to separate the information contained in the DNA sample and the information attributed to the person to whom that DNA belongs. It simply advises Canadian Criminal Records Information Services of the bar code and the service retrieves the identifying information and sends it to the laboratory that uploaded the profile to the crime scene index. It is of course not possible for unauthorized persons to enter the data bank or the Criminal Records Information Services to view or retrieve data.

The National DNA Data Bank's website has a wealth of information about how it actually operates and about the history and science behind it. I also hope that the members of the standing committee who have not had the opportunity to tour the National DNA Data Bank will arrange to do so. I know the staff would be most happy to show them how the system works and to answer all their questions. Certainly a tour of the data bank made it much easier for members who were considering former Bill C-13 to understand the submissions of the witnesses and to formulate their recommendations for amendments.

Finally, I remind the House that a National DNA Data Bank Advisory Committee has been established by regulation. Its membership includes eminent scientists, specialists in privacy and human rights law, and a former justice of the Supreme Court. The committee's duties encompass any matter related to the establishment and operation of the DNA data bank.

Members will find much wisdom in the reports that the advisory committee has made over the years. Members of the advisory committee will, I trust, be witnesses when the parliamentary review of the legislation gets under way.

I now wish to turn to some of the specifics of Bill C-18. Fundamentally, the effectiveness of the National DNA Data Bank depends on three factors: one, the number of profiles from crime scenes; two, the number of profiles from convicted offenders; and three, the resources of the police to pursue leads generated by the data bank.

Upon passage of Bill C-18 and the proclamation of former Bill C-13, there will be many more offenders eligible for a DNA data bank order and the police will be able to upload many more crime scene profiles to the National DNA Data Bank. This will undoubtedly lead to more matches between crime scene samples and the convicted offender samples and more matches between crime scenes. That is ultimately the goal of the DNA data bank, to provide those matches.

As for the resources of the police, we earmarked $15 million over two years to increase the capacity of the National DNA Data Bank to process convicted offender samples and the capacity of the regional laboratories to process crime scene samples. Without these additional resources and without the changes proposed in Bill C-18, the proclamation of former Bill C-13 would be largely ineffective in achieving Parliament's purpose.

Former Bill C-13, however, contained flaws that required correction. The previous government introduced former Bill C-72 to correct problems in Bill C-13. That bill would have one, re-enacted the definition so as to make the various amendments fit together in a logical order; two, changed the forms to reflect the changes made in the procedures for obtaining an order in retroactive proceedings; three, ensured that the commissioner provided further information regarding a possible match only at the request of the laboratory or police; and finally, corrected a difference in the French and English versions of the section authorized in the international sharing of DNA profiles.

Former Bill C-72 contained many other changes to the drafting of Bill C-13 and two procedural changes requested by the provinces to reduce cost: a provision to permit retroactive hearings by video; and a simpler defective order procedure that would have eliminated the application to a court of appeal for the order to be quashed and substituted certification by the attorney general. These changes are reintroduced in Bill C-18 which is before us today. It contains, as the minister has said, many further clarifications and improvements that have been suggested by officials since former Bill C-72 was tabled.

Members should be aware that it will take several months for the provinces to be ready. They have to train their prosecutors, police, court administrators and clerical staff in the new procedures. Understandably, they will not begin that process until the bill has received royal assent.

We believe the House should move swiftly to send Bill C-18 to committee and it is therefore with pleasure that I urge the House to give Bill C-18 second reading.

An Act to amend Certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill in principle, that is, we want police forces to have the tools they need to solve investigations quickly. During investigations, the police may need to collect DNA samples. We also understand the need to have a DNA data bank managed by the RCMP. We will therefore vote in favour of sending this bill to committee after second reading, and we will raise a number of questions.

We feel it is our duty to do so, especially since, in the very recent past—just now, actually—the RCMP's actions were not beyond reproach regarding the collection and sharing of information. In our opinion, there must be extremely firm guarantees that the appropriate recipients of such information will be correctly identified.

Since 1998, the Bloc Québécois has supported these measures. In 1998, we began voting on the first measures concerning the collection of DNA samples. Furthermore, we supported Bill C-13. This is really a question of judges having the ability to impose an order that will be mandatory in some cases, but optional in other cases. This will allow something extremely intrusive in terms of human rights, that is, collecting DNA samples.

We understand fully—and the minister was right to point it out—that when an individual is imprisoned and convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code, it is not unreasonable to ask for a DNA sample.

I will close by sharing our questions on this matter. Bill C-13 deals with the primary designated offences that involve the most violence and relate to sexual assault, and I will name them. There are 16 cases where the courts must issue mandatory orders to take DNA samples. The DNA information is kept in a data bank that is managed by the largest police force, the RCMP. Sampling is mandatory in the following cases: prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution, murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, etc. This list of primary designated offences also includes offences such as breaking and entering a dwelling house and participation in the activities of a criminal organization.

Section 467 of the Criminal Code was created in response to the conflicts between outlaw motorcycle gangs in major urban centres. A new offence was added to the Criminal Code: gangsterism, which consists in committing an offence for a criminal organization. Now, in cases of luring children using the Internet or procuring, the Crown must prove that the mandatory sampling order will better serve the interests of justice. In the case of secondary designated offences—all crimes punishable by more than five years in prison—the prosecution must request an order and demonstrate that it is in the interests of justice.

The Bloc Québécois was in favour of all these provisions that would give the police additional resources, because we voted in favour of Bill C-13.

One aspect of Bill C-18 that might warrant further discussion is the fact that, in addition to the existing provisions, the government wants everyone who has been convicted since 2000 of conspiracy and attempted murder to be included in the national DNA data bank.

Obviously there is some grey area. Conspiracy corresponds to a fairly broad provision in criminal law. There are situations where conspiracy leads to the commission of criminal acts, but conspiracy in and of itself is closer to plotting than actually committing the criminal act.

I asked the minister a question earlier, but unfortunately he was unable to provide an answer. Our question is on a provision in the bill that will allow the RCMP—the entity in charge of administering this data bank—to use the information, and thus the DNA.

This data bank has two major indices. The first index includes DNA samples of people who have indeed been convicted of one of the 16 designated offences I mentioned earlier. As far as the second index is concerned, it has to do with scenes of crimes, including unresolved crimes. I will give you an example. A murder occurs on a property and the guilty party is not identified, but there are traces of blood, bodily fluid and other substances. The RCMP collects samples and they become part of the crime scene index. Even when no suspect is identified, there is still anonymous information left by DNA, bodily fluids and blood.

This information is found in two major indices. I was somewhat surprised to see that Bill C-18, if passed in its current form, would allow the Commissioner of the RCMP, Mr. Zaccardelli, to use DNA information for all criminal investigations and offences.

I hope the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities shares my opinion, but, at the risk of repeating myself, I maintain that we must be extremely careful when it comes to distributing personal information. The RCMP is not above reproach. That is why we will leave the parliamentary committee to do its work.

I have read the O'Connor report on the Arar case and it is clear that the RCMP was given a lot of power. It can even respond to requests from other countries and both parties may want to share information.

In investigating an offence that is not necessarily on the list of 16 designated offences that I was talking about, if there is information to do with the DNA of bodily fluids and blood, in other words a genetic profile, the RCMP could distribute this genetic information, affecting potential suspects, to different police bodies and to independent investigators. Obviously we are concerned.

Once again, I recognize the importance of Bill C-18 . In 1998, the Bloc Québécois agreed to the creation of a data bank. We even collaborated on Bill C-13, which was passed unanimously, but we have always expressed reservations concerning the extent to which the information may be shared. This is very important for genetic profile information, and it makes a significant contribution to resolving criminal investigations.

In the absence of a perfect match, Bill C-18 would also enable the RCMP commissioner to communicate similar genetic profiles to foreign authorities.

This is extremely important. Since Bill C-13 was passed, the international communication of profiles has been limited to the validation of DNA samples found at crimes scenes outside of Canada. In such cases, the information in the profile is communicated to police authorities in countries that request it. If there is no match—if the DNA sample is not validated—all the RCMP is authorized to say, according to Bill C-13, is that the DNA profile requested for validation does not correspond to any information in the current data bank.

Bill C-18 takes this a little farther. It would permit identification by DNA profile in the communication of possible matches. This may seem very technical, but it is not just technical. This is about the concerns and the balance we have to have. We accept that convicted individuals who have harmed a person or property and been imprisoned may be subject to an RCMP investigation. However, we are not prepared to say that all foreign police forces can have access to the information in the data bank, even if a suspect has not yet been identified.

These are the issues the committee will discuss. I will take a break for member statements under Standing Order 31, and I will continue my speech after oral question period.