Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, simply put, we on this side believe that Bill C-18 is a vital tool in protecting the safety of all Canadians. It is for this precise reason that our government, many months ago, originally introduced a bill very similar to the bill now before the House; that is, we introduced a bill dealing with the DNA data bank.
When it comes to fighting crime and to ensuring that our communities are as safe as possible, partisanship should not rear its head. I know, in that vein, members opposite will agree that this bill was essentially a parroting of a bill which had been introduced previously by the Liberal government.
By way of background, the DNA Identification Act was created in 1998 and came into force on June 30, 2000. Section 13 of the act clearly states that within five years of the act coming into force, a review of the provisions and operations of the act should be undertaken by a committee of the House, committee of the Senate, or by both. The review has not yet taken place, though obviously more than five years have passed since the act first came into force.
The current Minister of Justice was quoted earlier this year as stating that the review “should begin as soon as possible after this bill receives royal assent”. Unquestionably, the review should happen as soon as possible and to be candid, the review is already overdue. I hope we will eventually hear from the minister as to when the review will take place, and one hopes that compliance with section 13 is a top priority for the Minister of Justice.
DNA has become so important in the investigation of crime and the pursuit of the criminal element that strict compliance with the act should certainly be the order of the day. It is obvious that the use of forensic DNA analysis in solving crime has emerged as one of the most powerful tools available to law enforcement agencies for the administration of justice. It is not an exaggeration to compare the impact of DNA to the introduction of fingerprint evidence into court more than a century ago.
DNA, often referred to as the blueprint of life, is the fundamental building block of a person's entire genetic makeup and is found in virtually every tissue in the human body. It is a very powerful tool for identification purposes, except with respect to identical twins. The DNA molecule itself is extremely stable and can withstand significant environmental challenges, which allowed authorities, for instance, just a few years ago to locate DNA evidence which exonerated David Milgaard of a murder which took place over 30 years ago.
The National DNA Data Bank, located here in Ottawa, is responsible for two principle indices.
The first index is the convicted offender index, an electronic index which has been developed from DNA profiles collected from offenders who have been convicted of designated primary and secondary offences identified in Canada's Criminal Code. As of May, the convicted offender index had nearly 100,000 entries.
The second index is the crime scene index, a separate index composed of DNA profiles obtained from crime scene investigations of the same designated offences. There are several thousands of DNA samples of convicted offenders, which are included in the national DNA data bank, along with thousands of samples from various crime scenes across the country.
Police officers all across Canada have received extensive training on the process involved in collecting DNA samples and in the process of forwarding those samples for analysis to the National DNA Data Bank. Obviously the data collected as a result of this science has to be managed appropriately. It is fair to say that consultations with the provinces and the territories, as well as members of the public, have been instrumental in developing amending legislation over the past several years.
Under the act as it is currently constituted, there are both primary and secondary designated offences. The primary designated offences are considered the most serious criminal offences such as murder, manslaughter and sexual offences. The secondary designated offences include, for instance, arson and assault.
When an individual is convicted of a primary designated offence, the sentencing judge is automatically required to make an order for the collection of a DNA sample from that convicted individual, unless that individual can convince the court otherwise. With respect to a secondary designated offence, a DNA sample collection order is not automatic, but may be granted if the court, upon application by the prosecution, is satisfied that it is in the best interests of justice to do so.
The previous Liberal government moved a number of previously listed secondary offences to the primary list, including the new offence of Internet luring of a child. Other offences which were moved to the primary list included child pornography and robbery.
In essence, the sentencing judge orders the convicted individual to appear in order to provide a DNA sample. Bill C-18 would make it an offence for that individual to fail to appear for DNA sampling purposes, similar to the offence for failing to show up for fingerprinting. There needs to be some teeth in the law in order to ensure compliance, and Bill C-18 would provide that.
Bill C-18 is essentially an enhanced version of previous government bills. Again, I believe it is appropriate to send this bill to committee for appropriate consideration.
The Supreme Court of Canada in its deliberations has recognized the importance of DNA and DNA legislation and has decided in the case of R. v. Rodgers that the collection of DNA samples for data bank purposes from designated offenders is reasonable. I agree.
The Criminal Code and other related legislation and the criminal justice system under which the legislation operates must do all it can to ensure community safety. Any suggestion by civil libertarians that this legislation is too invasive of a person's freedom or rights, or forces an individual to essentially incriminate himself, are outweighed by the need for community safety, and the passage of legislation which will assist in assuring the safety of the community.
In my view Bill C-18 accomplishes that.