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DNA Identification Act: Remarks to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-43, Division 17

A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament
on February 11, 2014
Witness: Sue OSullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Remarks delivered November 19th, 2014

INTRODUCTION

  • Bonjour, Monsieur le président et chers membres du comité.
  • Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss Division 17 of Bill C-43, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014, as it relates to the DNA Identification Act.

MANDATE

  • I would like to begin by providing you with a quick overview of my Office’s mandate.
  • Created in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime helps victims in two main ways: individually, and collectively.
  • We help victims individually by speaking with them every day, answering their questions and addressing their complaints.
  • We help victims collectively by reviewing important issues and making recommendations to the Federal Government on how to improve its laws, policies or programs, to better support victims of crime.

CONTEXT

  • The proposed amendments to the DNA Identification Act and the attached federal funding would create a national DNA Missing Persons Index.
  • This would supplement the work of the RCMP’s National Center for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains by enabling the collection and matching of DNA profiles from missing persons and unidentified remains to other DNA profiles.
  • The creation of a DNA MPI is not the final answer, but it does provide another important tool in the toolbox for investigators and coroners in locating missing persons or identifying human remains.

BACKGROUND

  • Since my appointment, I have had the opportunity to speak with victims and victims groups who have a sincere and determined hope that the ability to match the DNA of missing persons to those of unidentified human remains would alleviate the suffering that the families of missing persons endure.
  • Not knowing what has happened to a loved one is an overwhelming burden. A burden which is often accompanied by the unrelenting feeling that more could be done to try to locate their loved one.
  • For this reason, my Office has, on numerous occasions, made recommendations to the Government of Canada that the development of these indices be given a high priority and that jurisdictional issues be resolved on an urgent basis.
  • Throughout the years I have seen considerable support for the creation of a national Missing Persons Index from the Canadian public, law enforcement, victims groups, parliamentarians, and various levels of government.
  • In 2005, the Department of Public Safety released a public consultation paper on the Missing Persons Index and the following year, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for Justice agreed in principle to the concept of a Missing Persons Index and directed an inter-governmental working group to resolve key ongoing concerns.
  • In 2007, this committee - the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security - expressed its support in principle for Bill C-279, An Act to amend the DNA Identification Act, and recommended that the Government introduce legislation to establish missing person indices.
  • The Government accepted that recommendation but little progress was achieved over the following two years.
  • Following a Statutory Review of the DNA Identification Act in June 2009, this Committee along with the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended the creation a Missing Persons Index and a Victims Index.
  • For our part, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime made recommendations in 2009, 2011 and again in 2013 that the development of a Missing Persons Index and an Index of Unidentified Human Remains be a priority for the Government of Canada.
  • In addition to strong Parliamentary support for the creation of a Missing Persons Index, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution in 2012 that also urged the Federal Government to move forward with creation of a National Missing Persons and Unidentified Human Remains DNA Index.

CONSIDERATIONS

  • In Canada, there is currently no capacity at a national level to compare and match the DNA of existing unidentified remains against the DNA of missing persons, or their close relatives.
  • This legislation will add 5 new indices to the national DNA databank which could be used by provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies to investigate cases involving missing persons and unidentified remains.
  • The capacity to compare the DNA profiles of missing persons to unidentified remains ultimately strengthens law enforcement’s investigative capacity by providing a tool for comparison across Canada.
  • While I am very pleased by the changes to the DNA Identification Act that are proposed in this budget bill, there are important implementation and operational considerations for victims I would like to highlight.
  • Once the MPI and other indices are created, it will be important to that ensure that victims receive clear and consistent information with regards to:
    • The purposes of collecting DNA information from a victim or a family member and how it will be stored and used.
    • The retention period of DNA profiles.
    • The process of withdrawing a voluntary DNA sample from the database.
    • The notification process if a match is found, particularly if a match means a death notification for a family.
    • A point of contact for family members regarding information and updates.
    • All victims across Canada should be provided the same choices and options with respect to their involvement with these indices.
  • Most of the contact with victims will likely occur with provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies, I therefore encourage the Government of Canada to work with the provinces and territories so that the proper resources are available to ensure victims have equal access to the indices and that they understand how they work.

CONCLUSION

  • In conclusion, I fully support the amendment proposed in this bill regarding the creation of national DNA indices of missing persons and unidentified human remains.
  • Victims deserve to know what happened to their loved ones. The Missing Persons Index and Unidentified Human Remains Index are additional tools that we can use to provide answers to some of those families and it is time move ahead with its implementation
  • I thank you for your time and welcome any questions you may have.