Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak before the House and my hon. colleagues about this issue brought forward by the hon. member for Burlington.
Let me begin by telling the House that the addition of a missing persons index to the National DNA Data Bank would be beneficial on two fronts. On the one hand, it would help law enforcement agencies solve missing persons cases with solid scientific proof. On the other, it would enable officials to make positive matches with missing persons, thereby providing the families of missing loved ones with closure and relief.
In the time that has been allotted to me today, I will address the motion of the hon. member. I would first like to note that this government fully understands the principles of the motion. The government recognizes the valuable and expanding role of DNA as a tool for law enforcement.
DNA analysis is a powerful tool. It is unparalleled in terms of its ability to identify an individual. As members probably know, with the exception of identical twins, each person's DNA is unique to them.
We believe that it is a worthwhile endeavour to further investigate how to use DNA technology more effectively to assist in the identification of found human remains and to bring relief to the families of missing persons.
In fact, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is leading the significant work to establish a DNA missing persons index. Federal officials are working with their counterparts in each of the provinces and territories.
It is important that we understand first how DNA is now used in the criminal system before we can contemplate adding the humanitarian aspect of a missing persons index to that system, as proposed in this bill. The use of forensic DNA analysis to solve crime has shown itself to be of enormous benefit to public safety in Canada. The use of DNA is one of the most valid and reliable investigative tools known in law enforcement today.
Since the National DNA Data Bank came into existence in June 2000, thousands of DNA profiles from convicted offenders have been processed and added to it. Also added are the profiles received from crime scenes across the country. Police from across Canada have been trained on how to properly collect DNA samples from a crime scene. It is from these samples that profiles are obtained.
As I have said, the DNA Data Bank is an extremely valuable tool and its value can be seen very clearly in these statistics. In its first year of use, 2000, the data bank scored 25 hits. It linked DNA evidence found at crime scenes to other investigations or to DNA profiles of convicted offenders. However, from April 2005 to April 2006, that number had increased to 2,323 hits in a year.
During its six years of operation, over 130,000 DNA profiles have been entered into the data bank. What is the final result? As of this past summer, the data bank has assisted in over 5,800 criminal cases in Canada.
Clearly it is undeniable that DNA technology is an important part of law enforcement in Canada and is being used quite successfully by our law enforcement agencies across the country.
The government continues to consult on the principles behind the proposed legislation and must investigate the matter further. What needs to be determined is whether the resources of the National DNA Data Bank should be used not only to help protect the safety of Canadians by solving serious crimes, but also for compassionate and humanitarian reasons.
The hon. member proposes that a new index be added to the data bank that would hold DNA samples of missing persons and unidentified human remains. He also proposes that the new samples should be cross-checked both against each other and also against the existing criminal samples maintained by the data bank in an effort to identify human remains.
Using the National DNA Data Bank in this way might offer the potential to bring comfort to Canadian families whose loved ones have disappeared and who have waited for years for news of a missing person. It is understandable how using the data bank in this way could be seen to offer the potential to comfort those families whose loved ones have disappeared. The thought that we might have a tool that could bring a sense of closure to these families compels us to consider this idea.
However, concerns have been raised with the way this bill is currently drafted. For instance, jurisdictional issues are raised because both the identification of found remains and the police response to missing persons reports are provincial responsibilities. Therefore, the federal government's right to legislate in this area is not entirely agreed upon by all parties.
It is a fact that the federal government and the RCMP commissioner have no jurisdiction to impose duties upon the provincial laboratories, police and coroners.
Also, Canadian charter rights would be infringed upon if the uploading of the DNA profile to the National DNA Data Bank was made without the consent of the person in question. This government is committed to ensuring that the privacy of Canadians will always be respected.
This proposal as it now stands could constitute an unreasonable search and seizure. Therefore, it could be argued that any evidence derived from the match between the crime scene index of the National DNA Data Bank and the missing persons index could be inadmissible in court.
Moreover, there is concern that relatives who are asked to provide their own bodily substances for DNA analysis may be reluctant to do so if it exposes them to the potential of a criminal investigation.
Finally, as with all new government incentives, there would be added costs to running the National DNA Data Bank. Until decisions are made about the design and exact parameters of this project, it is not possible to accurately estimate costs and precisely profile expenditures.
The existing National DNA Data Bank and forensic laboratories operate as efficient public safety programs. It is important that the inclusion of a missing persons index add to its value and not draw on the data bank's or the forensic laboratories' existing resources used for current criminal investigations.
For all these reasons, the government must take the time it needs to further its study of this issue before going forward. The work that remains now continues to be dealt with by the already established federal, provincial and territorial missing persons index working group.
In conclusion, the detailed issues that need to be considered before moving forward with this bill may seem minor compared to the enormous suffering of a family whose loved one is missing. But we cannot move forward before ensuring that the method proposed will be effective and workable for all jurisdictions, will not infringe on the privacy rights of Canadians and will withstand possible future charter challenges.
If we put something in place that will simply not work, then we are not looking after the best interests of Canadians. No one is denying that the proposed bill has merit, but amendments to the bill must be made before we can adopt a firm position.
As it stands, I believe that it is important for federal, provincial and territorial officials to continue their work on this matter and to find an acceptable solution to possibly allow the National DNA Data Bank to serve a humanitarian purpose as well as a criminal investigative purpose.
Until it can move ahead on this process, the government needs to reserve any further judgment on the bill presented by the hon. member.