Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-279, An Act to amend the DNA Identification Act (establishment of indexes).
I want to congratulate the member for Burlington for bringing this forward. If I guess right, he probably inherited this from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, perhaps in a somewhat different form. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is now the Minister of Natural Resources. My colleague, the hon. member for Burlington, has picked up this important initiative and I congratulate him for doing that.
I worked with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands in the previous Parliament to get this bill enacted. The federal Liberal government at the time was supportive of developing a missing persons index and in fact launched a public consultation process that was completed last year. There are some issues the member knows about, none of which I believe are insurmountable, and I think we need to move toward a missing persons index.
There are some issues around privacy and jurisdiction along with some technical issues, and that is why the government at the time launched the public consultation process. That was completed last year. It was taken to the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice in November 2005. There were further working groups established and I believe it is on the agenda for the meeting coming up in November 2006, if my knowledge is right.
The officials were asked to look at various issues around cost, privacy, legal implications and to bring forward recommendations. Perhaps this bill has all the answers in it, that I do not know. I suspect not. The processes may be somewhat out of sync, but there are ways to deal with that. It is a very worthwhile initiative.
We definitely empathize with those who have relatives or friends who have gone missing. It is a horrible thing to have to go through. We know this happens with some frequency. A lot of people go missing and are subsequently located. The number, for example, of long term missing persons in Canada is less than 5,000 and an average of 270 new long term cases are recorded each year.
The Canadian Police Information Centre currently records a total of 286 partial sets of unidentified human remains. It is a challenge to find a match. People who are missing perhaps could be linked back to a crime scene or some other event with a DNA match. In the case of a person who is deceased, it would bring closure to that case and at least allow people to get on with their lives. They would know their missing relative or friend was located at a crime scene and that is the end of it.
There are, though, other situations where, for example, young people leave home and disappear. In some cases it may be because of some mischievous event. It might be a voluntary move on a person's part to leave home to travel and go under the radar. It raises some privacy issues with respect to DNA.
In a case such as that the relatives would be approached or there would be some interaction with relatives to identify DNA through personal belongings, et cetera. What happens, for example, if relatives themselves are involved in a crime? Do they have any privacy rights? If it is a deceased person, it is fairly straightforward, but if the police are able to match the DNA of a missing person with the DNA of a person at a crime scene who was either at large or convicted or a victim, what privacy rights would that person have?
Maybe they do not want to know about their families anymore for various reasons. There can be a lot of things that go on in families and for whatever reason, they might not want to be associated with their families anymore. What obligations and responsibilities come into play then? Those rules would have to be laid out very clearly and that is not always simple. It is surmountable, but it is not always simple.
There are also issues around jurisdiction. We never like to get bogged down with which jurisdiction has the responsibility, but the fact is that our Constitution lays out certain responsibilities. With respect to criminal law, the federal government has that responsibility; civil law and property rights are provincial. When we are talking about missing persons, that normally comes up in the context of local police work, and until such time as there is some criminality attached to it, or there is a suspicion that there is a crime involved, it is a local issue. These matters are dealt with often by local police and every province and jurisdiction has a different approach with respect to the DNA. That is why it is clearly appropriate for the federal government to be talking with the provinces and the territories to make an assessment of what is being done currently and what could be done with the National DNA Data Bank.
It is interesting to note that not all DNA is collected and kept in the National DNA Data Bank. We might have a missing person's DNA but we would not have necessarily all the DNA in the DNA Data Bank. In fact the last Parliament passed laws that reduced the judicial discretion in terms of feeding DNA to the DNA Data Bank. In this Parliament, there were further enhancements to that so that for major crimes, serious crimes, there is no discretion with respect to the DNA passing to the National DNA Data Bank. It is only applicable at this point, even with those changes, to the most heinous and serious of crimes, such as rape, murder and the like. There is currently no process for systematically gathering and comparing the DNA samples. That is an issue that has to be dealt with.
The consultation paper that involved a number of Canadians sought to get some views from experts and other interested parties on how one could put together this kind of missing person's index. That report is in and in a moment I will go through some of the findings and recommendations that came out of that consultation process.
There are different approaches to the privacy issues. We need to have a good debate around that.
There are different ways of structuring a missing person's index. It could be run at the provincial level and coordinated at the National DNA Data Bank level. It could be run at the National DNA Data Bank level and fed by the provinces and the territories.
There are issues like that which need to be worked on. In fact, this consultation process identified a number of different options for the government to look at and for the provincial, territorial and federal ministers to look at.
I am hoping that we make some progress. I hope that the member can take this to committee and somehow harmonize it with this consultation process and bring it into play, because we need it. It is an important tool that we could all use.