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.