Mr. Speaker, I rise today on Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification. Bill C-18 impacts the Criminal Code, the DNA Identification Act and the National Defence Act.
I, along with many in this chamber, was a member of the House when the DNA Identification Act was created in 1998. The act came into force on June 30, 2000.
Section 13 specifically provides that within five years of the coming into force of the act a review of the provisions and operations should be undertaken by a committee of the House, the Senate, or by both. This review has not yet taken place and the current Minister of Justice by letter earlier this year states that the review “should begin as soon as possible after this bill receives royal assent”.
I believe for many reasons that the review should happen as soon as possible. I would like to know from the minister if his assurance for the mandated review really means only after more of his so-called law and order bills come before the House or if the review can take place within the next year in a reasonable amount of time. Where exactly is the review on the list of priorities of the minority government?
In a letter which I believe was sent to all members of the justice committee, the minister identified various issues he wished to be discussed and they are important areas for discussion. Among them are: having only one list of designated offences; the scope of judicial discretion with respect to making an order; taking DNA under the Identification of Criminals Act; international sharing; the one I just mentioned moments ago, kinship analysis; volunteer samples; victim samples; and exoneration.
The current Minister of Justice whom we have just heard from has urged that the amendments in Bill C-18 are needed to give the benefits of changes made under the former government's Bill C-13 passed recently. Former Bill C-13 was adopted on May 19, 2005 and only some parts of Bill C-13 are currently in force.
For people who may have not been part of that legislative process, it may be useful to set out the purpose of the DNA Identification Act. Section 3 states:
The purpose of this Act is to establish a national DNA data bank to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed designated offences, including those committed before the coming into force of this Act.
The principles of the act are contained in section 4 and include:
(a) the protection of society and the administration of justice are well served by the early detection, arrest and conviction of offenders, which can be facilitated by the use of DNA profiles;
(b) the DNA profiles, as well as samples of bodily substances from which the profiles are derived, may be used only for law enforcement purposes in accordance with this Act, and not for any unauthorized purpose; and
(c) to protect the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves, safeguards must be placed on
(i) the use and communication of, and access to, DNA profiles and other information contained in the national DNA data bank, and
(ii) the use of, and access to, bodily substances that are transmitted to the Commissioner for the purposes of this Act.
The use of DNA analysis in solving crime has emerged as one of the most powerful tools that is currently available to law enforcement agencies for the administration of justice in our land. This has taken place in just over a decade. Actually it is remarkable. Its impact is akin to the introduction of fingerprint evidence in court over 100 years ago.
In the science of police investigation, DNA evidence is a major enhancement for the safety of Canadians. What is the value of DNA to public investigations? We should know that biological samples collected from a crime scene can either link a suspect to the scene or rule the suspect out as a donor of the DNA. Evidence from different crime scenes can be compared to link the same perpetrator to multiple offences, whether they occurred next door, across the country, or halfway around the world. It can also identify a victim through DNA from close relatives.
DNA is referred to often as the blueprint of life. It is a fundamental building block of a person's complete and entire genetic makeup. DNA is found in virtually every tissue in the human body. Experts tell us that the DNA in a person's blood is the same in the skin cells, the saliva, the hair and other bodily parts. Highly discriminating other than with respect to identical twins, it is a powerful tool for identification. Every person's DNA is unique to them, again with the exception of identical twins.
The DNA molecule itself can last significant environmental challenges. It is very stable. This enables the forensic experts to obtain new information from very old biological evidence, or establish important data from very badly degraded samples, which can occur when say a body is found or a crime scene is unearthed long after the fact of incidence.
The stability of the molecule and the fact we have very discriminating features of individual DNA and the accuracy of the analysis techniques that the current DNA people use make this a very efficient and strong human identification technology. It is a most vital component of most of our police investigations today of a very serious nature.
I should state that the national data bank respects the considerations, as it should, of the genetic privacy of individuals and follows strict guidelines as specified in the DNA Identification Act. The biological samples that are collected from convicted offenders and the resulting DNA profiles can only be used for law enforcement purposes. Thus, the National DNA Data Bank assists the law enforcement communities in solving crimes by linking crimes together where there are no suspects, by helping to identify suspects or conversely by eliminating suspects where there is no match between the crime scene DNA and the DNA profile in the national data bank. Further, it assists in determining whether a serial offender is involved.
By statute, the national data bank, which is located here in Ottawa, is responsible for two principal indices. The first is a convicted offenders index, which is an electronic index that has been developed from DNA profiles, collected from offenders convicted by designated primary and secondary offences identified in section 487.04 of the Criminal Code. I believe, as of mid-May 2006, the convicted offender index had nearly 100,000 entries.
The second is the crime scene index, which is a separate electronic index composed of DNA profiles obtained from crime scene investigations of the same designated offences addressed under the act. Thus we have several thousands, as the minister said, of the DNA samples from convicted offenders, which are included in the National DNA Data Bank along with the samples from various crime scenes across the country.
Large numbers of police officers from every province and territory jurisdiction in Canada have been the recipients of specific and proper training on how to collect and forward the DNA samples, which are then sent to the data bank in Ottawa for the proper analysis.
We know that the National DNA Data Bank has recorded over 5,200 crime scene to offender matches and more than 750 crime scene to crime scene matches. As everyone should appreciate, this developing science has to be managed very appropriately and properly to safeguard people's constitutional rights.
We have had, though, over the last number of years continuous consultations with provinces and territories and the public at large. They all have been instrumental in developing the amending legislation over the last couple of bills. Again, under the former Liberal government in Bill C-13, changes were made to improve the public safety and the approach of the bill continued to respect the constitutionally protected rights of individuals and their privacy interests. This is the problematic challenge area of concern for many.
When the bill was before committee the last time, the Privacy Commissioner was there expressing some concerns. It is right that these types of debates happen. That is why it is totally necessary we have the overall review and, hopefully, that will not be delayed.
Under the act, we currently have both primary and secondary designated offences. The primary designated offences are considered the most serious criminal offences. They are, for example, sexual offences, murder and manslaughter. The significant but relatively less serious offences would come under the threshold of secondary designated offences in the act. Two examples that have been shown would be assault and arson.
For people to understand the practical difference, a judge who convicts a person of a primary designated offence is required to make an order for the collection of the DNA sample from the offender, unless the offender can convince the court otherwise, under a specific section, subsection 487.051(2) of the Criminal Code. It is usually mandatory unless there are strict criteria.
With a secondary designated offence, and this is the difference, a DNA sample collection order may be granted if the court, upon application of the Crown, is satisfied that it is in the best interests of justice to do so. It should be noted that if a person was convicted or discharged of any designated offence after June 30 of the year 2000, but the act was committed before that date, then the same criteria for granting an order under the secondary designated offence would apply.
Bill C-13 moved a number of previously listed secondary designated offences and the new offence of Internet luring of a child to the primary list. Also Bill C-13 proposed additions to the list of secondary designated offences. Examples of certain offences that moved to the primary list included child pornography and robbery.
Bill C-13 also made changes to the National Defence Act to ensure that the military justice system would remain consistent with the civilian justice system.
The former Liberal government also introduced Bill C-72 in November 2005, less than a year ago. That bill had a series of amendments to help implement the DNA data bank references that were endorsed by Parliament under Bill C-13, which I have just discussed. These technical amendments were to clarify definitions and procedures for obtaining a DNA data bank order and for sharing information. There was a provision to help DNA data bank orders to be carried out, even when, for logistical reasons, it may not have been possible to take the sample at the precise time as set out in the original order.
Bill C-72, which also died when the government fell last year, would have also simplified the procedure to destroy samples taken from those convicted of an offence not intended to be included in the DNA data bank. This is a whole specialized area. There is a lot of concern about whether samples ever really get destroyed or whether we just do not do the matching any more and we lose the ability to match properly.
Among other issues, Bill C-72 was to allow for hearings by video to reduce costs and security associated with two party and greater numbers of offenders eligible for a retroactive sampling as a result of Bill C-13. Therefore, Bill C-72 essentially picked up on some of the issues identified by the stakeholders during the consultations on the implementation of Bill C-13 and also from the committee debate. It was intended to have the technical amendment made under Bill C-72 come into force before the coming into force of the unproclaimed provision of Bill C-13 in order to increase the efficiency of the data bank system and reduce costs.
This has been a somewhat dry and truncated history of the legislation, but it puts us where we are today with the sections.
Bill C-18, introduced by the government based on the work of the former government, is supposed to represent a reincarnation of Bill C-72. Upon looking at the bill, amended forms, which were not ready for Bill C-72, have now been included in Bill C-18. As mentioned previously, we are now further behind the overall review of the legislation. We are again being asked by the Minister of Justice to do the technical amendments before the broader policy and review.
Bill C-18 has some substantive provisions also. I am not going to go through all of them today, that is what we have committee for, but I will give an example. It will make it an offence to fail to appear for DNA sampling. This is similar to the situation in the code where we have an offence for failing to show up for fingerprinting. This seems entirely logical to me. It also proposes to add attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder to the offences covered by the retroactive provisions.
Also, there are simple, or not so simple, procedural changes in Bill C-18. Examples of these amendments include allowing a DNA order to be made within 90 days after the sentence is pronounced and allowing the law enforcement agency authorized to take a DNA sample to authorize another law enforcement agency to do it on its behalf when the offender has moved or been incarcerated outside of the jurisdiction. This would save time and money. As opposed to moving the offender back and forth, we would do the sampling in another jurisdiction, as long as all the orders had been properly made.
These are practical amendments that would assist in an efficient process and rectify some of the on the ground problems that are being experienced by people who have to deal with the various systems, from the justice system courthouse, all the way to the analysis here at the data bank.
For the most part, Bill C-18 is an enhanced version of previous government bills. Since we have last had the occasion to discuss DNA legislation, the Supreme Court of Canada, in R. v. Rogers, has held, among other things, that the collection of DNA samples for data bank purposes from designated class of offenders is reasonable, reasonable as an infringement in our constitutional sense of the word.
In conclusion, I believe it is very appropriate to send the bill to committee for careful consideration. I will restate that I also think it is very appropriate that the House, our Parliament and some of the committees consider a full review so we can have a proper discussion about further emerging areas that need to be addressed, not only those outlined in the Minister of Justice's letters, but maybe some of the concerns of some of the other stakeholders. I think that would be a useful thing to do.