Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in the debate on Bill C-3, the DNA identification act.
DNA is basically the next generation of fingerprinting. Since 1988 trial judges have allowed DNA evidence from the accused to be introduced in several criminal prosecutions. Indeed forensic DNA analysis has been instrumental in securing convictions in hundreds of violent crimes and has resulted in the release of wrongfully convicted people.
During the early days of DNA evidence, there existed a vacuum in regulating the collection and use of DNA evidence. In a number of cases the judges even allowed DNA samples which were taken from accused individuals who did not consent to having their DNA collected. Organizations such as the Canadian Police Association had warned the government that legislation would be needed to ensure the proper and effective use of DNA evidence.
During a 1993 meeting with the then Minister of Justice and in 1994 with the solicitor general, representatives of the Canadian Police Association raised the urgent need of updating evidence laws to include DNA technology. Despite these warnings of the men and women on the front lines of keeping Canada safe, the Liberal government decided to wait. It dragged its heels until the Supreme Court of Canada intervened in 1994, much the same way as it dragged its heels on the Young Offenders Act.
The supreme court ruled that in the absence of federal legislation, the police did not have any lawful means to obtain a search warrant for the seizure of bodily substances for the purposes of DNA typing. This lack of legislation led the supreme court to determine that DNA evidence obtained without the consent of the accused risked being excluded at trial.
The government finally took the first step in 1995 for the legal framework of DNA. That bill gave the police the right to seek a warrant that, if approved by a provincial court judge, authorized the collection of bodily substances for DNA analysis. Bill C-104 also legislated criteria for judges to consider when reviewing DNA warrant applications. Police officers, lawyers and judges finally had some guidelines, albeit very broad ones, to govern the collection of DNA evidence.
With Bill C-104 in place, the obvious question arose: What would the government do with DNA samples once they were collected? The logical answer was the creation of a national DNA data bank in which collected DNA samples could be stored for future reference in criminal investigations or trials.
Even the Minister of Justice at the time when not preoccupied with cracking down on law-abiding gun owners—another contentious issue obviously—or launching politically motivated witch-hunts, conceded the importance of a national DNA data bank. He felt it was so important that when Bill C-104 was approved, he promised complementary data bank legislation for the fall of 1995.
That promise as we know bit the dust when the government started consulting on the January 1996 discussion paper entitled “Establishing a National DNA Data Bank”. Interestingly enough the cover note and news release which accompanied that discussion paper at the time stated that the government would bring in DNA data bank legislation in the coming year.
We all know what happens to promises. The coming year stretched into 16 months and obviously it died on the Order Paper, but it was included in the Liberal's red book two during the election. I will say the Liberals at least did not use the election as an excuse to delay the importance of this legislation. Obviously it is on the floor of the House now.
With the exception of some minor changes the technical language in Bill C-3 is what we are talking about today. The solicitor general has outlined many of the positive elements in this bill of which there are several.
The DNA data bank to be managed by the RCMP will consist of two main components: a crime scene index that will contain DNA profiles obtained from unresolved crime scenes; and a convicted offenders index that will contain DNA profiles of adult and young offenders convicted of designated Criminal Code offences.
Because police officers will be able to cross reference data from certain convicted offenders with unresolved crime scenes, the DNA identification act is an improvement over the vacuum which previously existed in terms of storing DNA data. But will this national data bank as established under Bill C-3 provide our police officers with an effective tool to solve crimes and keep our streets and communities safe? That is the question.
The police officers through the Canadian Police Association say no. In fact the police association which has been at the front of the lobbying movement to establish the data bank is so concerned about the effectiveness of Bill C-3 that it is opposed to the legislation.
The major concern of the police association is with the timing of DNA collection. According to the CPA, a national DNA data bank will only be successful if the collection of DNA from a person charged with an indictable offence is done at the time of the arrest. Why is this the case? Because the only guaranteed opportunity to obtain the DNA evidence from individuals charged with an indictable offence is when police actually have custody of the person charged.
The proposed convicted offenders index while somewhat useful would not help police identify unknown murderers and rapists. It might even encourage suspected offenders to skip bail as most people charged with offences are released pending trial. In fact if we look at it, in Canada bail is granted to 95% of all people charged with all criminal offences. According to Juristat more than 66,000 people in 1995 either broke bail or failed to appear as required. Therein lies the problem.
What would happen for example if someone was arrested for an offence related to juvenile prostitution which is a designated offence for DNA collection under this legislation but in this case the individual may have also committed an unsolved murder from which the offender's unidentified DNA was collected. It is pretty obvious the person would know that if he is convicted of the juvenile prostitution charge, the DNA analysis would be obtained and cross referenced with the crime scene index. Then that person would be up on a murder charge.
It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that under the current bill many offenders would choose to skip bail instead of risking a murder charge. How would that help police in this case solve the mystery of an unsolved crime?
As it now stands Bill C-3 has a loophole and that loophole is big enough to drive a truck through. If there is one thing our legal system does not need at this time, it is more loopholes.
I understand the fears of individuals such as Canada's privacy commissioner, but I believe there are ways to deal with some of the privacy concerns without compromising collection of samples and the ability to solve the most serious of unsolved crimes.
When the previous minister introduced the first incarnation of the DNA identification act, he stated the importance of getting the data bank correct the first time.
Our officers do not believe that Bill C-3 is the most appropriate measure to collect and store DNA evidence. And if they do not, we should take a serious look at amending this legislation at the committee level.
I support the goals and objectives of this bill, but our police officers and courts need an effective DNA data bank as soon as possible. If we allow for modifications of Bill C-3 at the committee level, I believe we can make an effective DNA data bank a reality.
I would therefore urge my colleagues, especially the solicitor general, and the justice committee to be flexible and consider the reasonable suggestions put forward by organizations such as the Canadian Police Association. We need to plug those loopholes such as the ones highlighted by the CPA and other organizations.
I will conclude by simply stating that if the Liberal government or any other party decides to refuse these amendments to Bill C-3 at the committee level, our caucus will be obligated to re-evaluate its position on this legislation.