Mr. Speaker, I rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-13. The purpose of the legislation before us today is to broaden the provisions governing the national DNA data bank.
In 1998, Bill C-3, an act representing DNA identification, was enacted. This legislation created a new statute governing the establishment and administration of a national DNA data bank and amended the Criminal Code to permit a judge to make a post-conviction DNA data bank order. These orders authorized the taking of bodily substances from a person found guilty of designated Criminal Code offences in order to include the offender's DNA profile in the national DNA data bank.
The DNA data bank, which was officially opened on July 5, 2000 here in Ottawa, is maintained by the RCMP.
The party that I represented at the time Bill C-3 was enacted was firmly committed to restoring confidence in our justice system by providing law enforcement agencies with the latest technological tools to quickly detect and apprehend criminals. We did not support Bill C-3 because we believed that it blatantly denied police the full use of the technology that was available at the time.
In 1998, there were literally hundreds of unsolved rapes and murders outstanding in the country. However, because Bill C-3 did not allow for the retroactive taking of samples from incarcerated criminals, other than designated dangerous offenders, multiple sex offenders and multiple murderers, these cases remained unsolved.
Fortunately, Bill C-13, the bill before us today, does expand the retroactive provisions for DNA sample collection orders.
If enacted, Bill C-13 will allow judges to order that DNA be taken from anyone convicted of one murder and one sexual offence committed at different times before the DNA data bank legislation came into force.
To illustrate the importance of DNA technology, especially involving old murder cases, and to encourage the government to expand the list of designated offenders from which retroactive samples can be taken, I would like to read a portion of an article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on July 15, 2004. It states:
Sometime in the early hours of Aug. 27, 1991, Richard Mark Eastman broke into the Mississauga apartment of Muriel Holland...a 63-year-old former playright and model.
Eastman, 48, raped and strangled Holland while her 95-year-old father slept in the next room. Although Peel Region police obtained a partial thumbprint and a DNA sample from the crime scene, their investigation into this brutal attack led nowhere for a decade.
The key break in this cold case would have to wait until after June 30, 2000. Then, after years of debate and false starts, parliament proclaimed a bill that would create a national DNA data bank.
The article went on to state:
Peel Region investigators didn't know it at the time, but the timing of the bill meant they were involved in what would become a landmark case. They sent a DNA sample from Holland's rapist to the new data bank on Nov. 28, 2000. The sample was stored in a database that indexes DNA evidence obtained, but not yet identified, at crime scenes.
Separately, the DNA data bank maintains profiles of serious criminal offenders. A sample from Eastman, who had been convicted in 1995 of sexual assault, was forwarded to the data bank on May 4, 2001. Within hours, data bank scientists matched Eastman's DNA profile to the Holland case.
Two days later, Peel Region police charged Eastman with murder--making this the first homicide case that emerged as a result of a cross-match between the two main databases in Canada's DNA data bank.
I would like to point out that there would have been many more matches if in 1998 the Liberals had seen the wisdom in expanding the retroactive provisions for the DNA collection orders as recommended by our party and as recommended by the Canadian Police Association.
The Canadian Police Association recommended the list of convicted offenders, from which retroactive samples could be taken, be greatly expanded.
The CPA, with our full support, also strongly advised that DNA samples be taken at the time of arrest as opposed to the time of conviction to prevent potentially dangerous offenders from fleeing before their court date.
The CPA also expressed concern about a provision within Bill C-3, which allowed judges to exempt offenders from having a DNA sample taken if the judge believed that it would impact an individual's privacy and security.
This unnecessary and dangerous exemption has not been removed under the new legislation, nor have the other issues raised by the police officers all across the country. Those issues similarly have not been addressed in the legislation.
I would therefore suggest that the concerns raised by the Canadian police in 1998 should be raised again. Their concerns I am sure will be nothing more than dismissed by the Liberal justice minister.
On a final matter, I have serious concerns that the legislation does not address the backlog within the RCMP evidence recovery units.
In August 2003, I received some information, which I relayed to the then solicitor general, regarding the closure of the RCMP recovery units in Regina and Edmonton at the end of 2004, as well as the closure of the Halifax unit in March 2005. I expressed my concerns about these closures because of the serious and detrimental effect these closures would have on the timely examination of criminal evidence, especially DNA. My concern was based on the evaluation of the auditor general regarding the large case backlog within the RCMP laboratory system.
Since 1997, the RCMP forensic laboratories have been undergoing changes with the introduction of the DNA technology. Limited funding, insufficient resources and an increased workload due to this new technology resulted in a backlog in 2001 of 900 cases requiring DNA examination being stalled. This backlog prompted the auditor general to recommend a reorganization in order to gain increased efficiencies.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government took this to mean the closure and centralization of evidence recovery units, which will, in my opinion, complicate the process not ease the backlog.
My concerns, although never properly addressed by the solicitor general, were confirmed by a news article in the National Post on October 9, 2003 which read:
Joe Buckle, the RCMP's assistant commissioner in charge of forensic laboratory services...acknowledged, however, that the RCMP's forensic labs have not received a funding increase in the past five years.
Moreover, he did not dispute that in the first eight months of this year, 74% of the RCMP's most serious DNA cases failed to meet the Mounties' own 15-day analysis deadline.
Scientists familiar with the RCMP's six forensic labs paint a much different picture. They say the lab system is in such disarray, and the DNA case backlogs so overwhelming, that serious criminal investigations involving homicide, sexual assault and threats to national security have been delayed for months at a time, potentially jeopardizing the chances of arrests and convictions.
In closing, I reiterate that we need proper funding. Without better funding and better resources for the RCMP, the forensic labs and police agencies, we are in dire straits. We also need to make sure that we have the ability to bring forward the proper amendments that Bill C-13 needs.
Canada has to restore confidence in our justice system. We have to be able to give the resources to the police agencies. We have to build confidence that we do have a justice system that works. Unless we can make some amendments to the bill, the confidence will not be restored.
When the bill does go to committee I encourage the government to look at some very serious, workable amendments that would make the bill a better bill.