Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Hello. I am the Director of the Strategic Coordination, Research and Evaluation Division at Public Safety Canada. I am the one in the department in charge of the Missing Persons Index file, the MPI. I appear before you as such.
I would like to introduce two of my colleagues who have been working on this file for several years. There is, first of all, Mr. Ronald Fourney, Director of National Services and Research at Forensic Science and Identification Services in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Mr. Greg Yost, Counsel at the Criminal Law Policy Section in the Department of Justice. We will be pleased to answer your questions on this subject.
However, I would like to start with a presentation outlining the context of the Missing Persons Index initiative and its progress.
Most view a national MPI as creating the capability to allow the DNA profile of a missing person or close biological relative to be compared to the DNA profiles derived from found unidentified human remains from jurisdictions across Canada. Coroners and police in Canada can use many other forensic and investigative tools, including a specialized index on CPIC, the national computer system used by all police. Local authorities sometimes do use DNA technology locally for identification or to assist in missing persons cases, but there is no centralized or standard way for DNA-based comparisons to be made across jurisdictions and no common approach by authorities.
As you may know, the possibility of establishing a missing persons index was raised briefly in 1994 and again in 1996 as part of public consultations related to what is now the DNA Identification Act, for which the Minister of Public Safety is responsible. More recently, Judy Peterson of British Columbia--whose daughter, Lindsey, has been missing for many years--proposed an MPI in response to the 2002 Department of Justice public consultations on the operation of the DNA data bank legislation, and of course there have been previous private members' bills on the subject.
In the fall of 2003, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for Justice ordered an FPT working group on this Missing Persons Index to be set up. They also asked officials to review issues raised by the establishment of a national index primarily for humanitarian reasons.
I chair the FPT working group on the Missing Persons Index but I am here as a federal public servant. I will provide an overview of the work undertaken by the group over the last several years and sum up the work accomplished and the anticipated timelines. However, since a large amount of information was provided on a confidential basis during the discussions in the working group, I am not in a position to divulge the individual positions of the various jurisdictions at this stage.
The mandate of the FPT working group is to assess matters related to the extent of the Index as well as privacy issues, legal, operational and financial aspects, and to undertake public consultations, to recommend potential models, and to provide support to the ministers and deputy ministers responsible for Justice with regard to setting up an MPI and related decisions.
The public consultation was completed in summer 2005. There were 150 respondents from the general public, police associations, several police services, provincial governments, missing persons organizations, and some bar associations. Detailed results from the consultation are available for the standing committee's examination. But in a nutshell, the results indicated strong support for a national MPI managed by the RCMP.
Also, as part of the consultation process, the FPT working group discussed the issues and challenges the proposal raises with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the national DNA data bank advisory committee, Mr. Gary Lunn, and Mrs. Peterson.
I should note that letters of support from concerned citizens who support the creation of a national MPI are received on an ongoing basis by the Department of Public Safety. This remains an issue that is close to the hearts of many Canadians, especially those who are in the unfortunate situation of knowing someone who is missing.
In November 2005, following the consultation results, FPT ministers confirmed their commitment to develop options. They directed officials to conduct detailed work on the cost, privacy, and legal implications. An overarching principle in developing an MPI model was to do no harm to the existing criminal law regime.
Three subcommittees were formed.
The missing persons definition subcommittee reviewed the resources and police procedures that already exist and focused on what guidelines would be required to ensure the most effective management of missing persons cases when these profiles were included in a national MPI.
The legal, administrative, and privacy issues subcommittee focused its research on analyzing the various legal issues involved in an MPI. These included issues such as the implications of cross-matching the MPI with the national DNA data bank's criminal indexes; informed consent; legislative jurisdiction; legal guarantees relating to analysis, retention, use, and destruction of biological samples and DNA profiles; and so on. Mr. Yost co-chaired that group.
The cost and funding formula subcommittee looked at factors that would affect costs and operations. More specifically, the subcommittee assessed the operational procedures you would need to put in place to provide law enforcement officials with access to a national MPI service. It also looked at how this would work in conjunction with existing procedures. The RCMP and Dr. Fourney have been very helpful with this work.
The FPT working group has been active in addressing and resolving a number of issues, many of which have arisen in the debates on Bill C-279. The discussions have coalesced around a number of elements. A national system operated by the RCMP as part of national police services and established largely by the federal government--this is similar to the national DNA data bank--would have the same advantage of having both high numbers of profiles and geographic impact. Provinces and territories could participate on a voluntary basis. In other words, they would be able to choose to gather DNA samples and upload the profiles according to established common criteria, for example, after exhausting other investigative or identification methods.
A missing person could be broadly defined in any legislation, but participants would use regulations and agreed upon guidelines to allow for local flexibility and best common practices.
The MPI would most likely have three separate indexes containing DNA profiles that could be cross-matched among themselves and potentially with existing criminal DNA indexes. The first of these would be human remains from unidentified human remains. The second would be personal effects of missing persons, voluntarily supplied, but using guidelines and verification practices. Third would be relatives of missing persons, voluntarily supplied, with measures to ensure active and informed consent.
Any advisory or oversight body would need to recognize differentiated federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdiction and roles.
If coroners identify human remains through a missing persons index, this finding could be used to establish death for provincial and territorial purposes and would deal with related issues, such as inheritance, insurance, and so on.
An assessment would need to be made of corresponding legislative changes respecting provincial and territorial police and coroner legislation that may be needed.
The working group has made significant progress with regard to jurisdictional issues and consent issues. This keys on both the consent given by any individual involved in a missing persons case and the jurisdictional responsibilities exercised by the originating province or territory. Again, almost all missing persons cases originate through a report to police or when found human remains are given into the control of a provincial or territorial coroner.
It is hoped that recommendations can be made for a legal framework for a national MPI that is flexible enough to deal with these important concerns, which have direct relevance to the prospect of cross-matching the MPI indexes with the existing criminal law indexes. Through informed consent, individuals could be able to control cross-checking of their profiles, provided for MPI purposes, with any of the existing criminal indexes in the national DNA data bank. The originating jurisdiction could also determine the degree of cross-matching it would permit.
Let me quickly note that there is other FPT work under way respecting missing women in particular. Established in February 2006, the mandate of the FPT missing women's working group is to consider issues associated with the effective identification, investigation, and prosecution of cases involving serial killers who target persons living a high-risk lifestyle, including but not limited to the sex trade. They are looking at strategies to protect persons who have a high likelihood of being victimized by these predators. The results of the working group will be in the form of recommendations to FPT deputy ministers responsible for justice. We liaise closely with this group where the potential use of DNA arises in discussions.
A word perhaps on the scale of the situation for missing persons in Canada. As I believe you may know, there are currently between 500 and 600 sets of unidentified human remains in Canada. While there are approximately 100,000 missing persons reports made to police each year, most cases are resolved quickly. For example, it is estimated that approximately 95% of missing persons are located, or the case is otherwise resolved, within 30 days. Approximately 6,000 ongoing missing persons cases are recorded on CPIC, and each year about 420 cases of people missing at least one year are added to this number. Therefore, we know there is a need to build a system that can deal with ongoing cases and with the existing historical group of 6,000 cases.
I should note that the indications are that the raw numbers of actual hits or matches from any MPI may be very low, especially in comparison to the number of matches we're getting for the national DNA data bank. As well, experience from the United States indicates the investigative value to law enforcement MPI matches may be somewhat smaller than is often assumed. However, in the humanitarian sense, any match to human remains or any help in advancing an MPI case is of great value to the family concerned and can assist law enforcement officials and coroners who are working with these families.
California is probably the best example in that its population is close to that of Canada. The California missing persons DNA program has resulted in very few cold hits in which unidentified remains were linked directly to a profile uploaded to the central system. The majority of other hits in the California system, which assists in the identification of about 71 unidentified persons, were what is called “warm identifications”, where DNA was used to confirm what was already suspected. Sixteen of the warm identifications were classified as homicides, 30 were unknown undetermined circumstances--many could be homicides--and 24 of the remaining identifications died of natural causes, suicide, vehicle accidents, etc.
In general terms, this endeavour would be similar to building the national DNA data bank. While the science and experience exists already, there are costs for development and implementation and a need to ensure the participation of the provinces and territories in using similar processes and techniques to conduct the DNA analysis and ensure privacy and security is protected. With this in mind, the working group has intensified its work on an operational model in costing and is trying to work toward final cost estimates to be part of the final presentation to FPT ministers.
I can illustrate for you some of the factors that will determine overall costs. Three of the major cost factors are related to the minimum number of days that could elapse after a person has been reported missing before DNA samples are collected and sent for analysis; the scientific process or processes selected to analyze DNA samples; and which forensic laboratory or laboratories to use, whether government run or private labs or a combination of both.
In March 2007, a business process mapping exercise was completed, which has produced a proposed structure and an operational model, identified jurisdictional responsibilities and coordination of operations between agencies, and provided information that will lead to a more precise cost model to assist in determining how to implement and run this initiative. These results in this timeline are consistent with the direction and timelines given to the working group by FPT deputy ministers at their January 2007 meeting in Toronto. The working group plans to present its findings to the FPT associate deputy minister committee on policing issues in Calgary on May 23, 2007, and make a final report to deputy ministers in June 2007 in Yellowknife. These deputy ministers would consider the report and its specific recommendations that would be presented to ministers at their fall 2007 meeting.
Again, while I cannot speak for the views of provincial and territorial partners, I can tell the committee that there has been very good participation, cooperation, and goodwill from jurisdictions throughout the process. There are considerable policy challenges and choices, but again, there is considerable goodwill and momentum.
Thank you. We'd be pleased to answer your questions.