Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today address Bill C-72, an act to amend certain acts in relation to DNA identification.
While I support this legislation, I want to place on the record some of my concerns generally with respect to DNA legislation. It has been a great source of frustration for many Canadians and particularly for law enforcement that the Liberal government has been dragging its feet on much needed DNA data bank legislation that would help safeguard our communities.
The use of forensic DNA analysis in solving crime is proving to be revolutionary. Biological samples collected from a crime scene can either help link to or eliminate a suspect from the crime scene. DNA donor suspects can help prove their innocence. Evidence from multiple crime scenes can be compared to link the same perpetrator to different offences in different locations. It can also identify a victim through DNA from close relatives.
Therefore, it is essential to have effective legislation in place so that our men and women in uniform can best serve to protect Canadian citizens.
Canadian police have for some time called for the creation of an effective DNA data bank to assist police investigations. The government was slow to respond, but finally assented to the DNA Identification Act on December 10 1998. The legislation allowed a DNA data bank to be created and amended the Criminal Code to provide for justices to order persons convicted of DNA offences to provide DNA samples. However, the legislation only came into effect in June 2000 and unfortunately included many loopholes.
Bill C-13 ultimately received unanimous support by all parties because it expanded and altered the offences and the offenders on the secondary and primary designation list who could be compelled to provide samples both retroactively and concurrently and after sentencing. It also permitted the destruction of samples taken, and judicial discretion was curtailed.
As I stated at the time of the royal assent to Bill C-13:
The success of this bill is a shining example of how a minority Parliament can work positively in the best interests of Canada. While everyone made compromises, I think we have a solid piece of legislation that will go a long way to address concerns about loopholes in our DNA law.
Bill C-13 still falls far short of the Conservative Party's expectations for appropriate legislation. Although DNA samples in Great Britain, and as is the case for fingerprinting in Canada, are taken at the time of charge, at a minimum all indictable offences should be deemed designated offences for DNA data banking and there should be no discretion for judges to decline to order a sample upon conviction.
The British experience shows that criminals who commit property offences are also involved in more serious indictable offences such as sexual assault and murder. There is no justification for excluding indictable offences such as break and enter from the mandatory taking of DNA samples, especially if there has been a conviction.
Moreover, the legislation has not yet been proclaimed into effect. The government has continued to delay this much needed piece of legislation because of allegedly necessary amendments to technical errors and omissions.
This excuse is weakened by the fact that Bill C-72 comes sandwiched between Bill C-13 and a review of the DNA act, mandated in the legislation and reiterated in a justice department press release, which was to have been undertaken in 2005. Technical errors and omissions should be dealt with in that review. What is needed now is not further delay but rather leadership from the government to help facilitate the apprehension of criminals by using DNA evidence.
There was, however, one provision that caused me some concern. That was to provide discretionary powers to the attorney general or the director of military prosecutions; if in their opinion the bodily substance collected was for a non-designated offence then the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police must destroy the substance collected. I have in fact reviewed that amendment. I have received assurances that the discretion afforded to the attorney general and the director of military prosecutions is appropriate and that it is also supported by police and provincial attorneys general. Therefore, I am consenting to that amendment as well.
Although these amendments in the bill are in fact an improvement on the status quo, they do not address many of the concerns raised by police and by provincial attorneys general.
Police have asked for the ability to collect a DNA sample at the time of charge, as is done with fingerprints, instead of upon conviction. There is no evidence or jurisprudence suggesting that such provisions would be in violation of the Constitution. Indeed, my position is that, at a minimum, all indictable offences upon conviction should be subject to the mandatory taking of DNA. There clearly is no constitutional basis for suggesting that such a provision after a conviction could in any way be unconstitutional.
Indeed, in other western democracies such as Great Britain, DNA samples are taken at the time of charge, as opposed to conviction. That has proven to be highly successful, not only in deterring crime and capturing criminals but in ensuring that innocent people are not convicted.
I also want to point out that our DNA testing system is so backlogged that until sufficient resources are provided, any legislated changes made will not be significantly meaningful. They will not improve the operation of the system.
This legislation still does not address the issue of timely production of DNA results to bring dangerous offenders to justice and to ensure the safety of our communities.
The government has insisted that DNA legislation is of the utmost importance and that we must expedite the passing of Bill C-72. However, if this is the case, why has the government waited five months to table new legislation in order to enforce Bill C-13? These rectifications are, as the parliamentary secretary has said, technical amendments and omissions and in fact simply delay the actual implementation of Bill C-13.
If the Minister of Justice wanted to add amendments, these could have been dealt with in the requisite review of the DNA Identification Act set to occur this year. However, that DNA review never took place.
Let me say in conclusion that the national DNA data bank is an important example of the increasing significance of science and technology in modern law enforcement. To stay ahead of the criminals, we must make better use of cutting edge science such as forensic DNA.
Data as of November 14, 2005, shows that over 4,000 cases have successfully linked crime scene DNA to offenders. It is imperative that the government create the legislative framework and provide the resources necessary to use this great crime-fighting tool.
To date the government has put forward legislation that takes steps in the right direction, but clearly, in view of the success enjoyed in other jurisdictions, these steps do not go far enough. The government's slow approach in implementing this needed legislation is disheartening.
I can assure members that a Conservative government will stand up for more effective DNA data bank legislation. A Conservative government will increase the number of cases where a mandatory sample upon conviction will be included for DNA sampling. Also, a Conservative government will stand up for the tools needed by our law enforcement officers to fight crime by providing them with the resources in order to make legislative tools effective.