Canada years behind U.S. in missing persons DNA testing

March 5, 2015 - 

According to a recent report in the Globe & Mail, Canada falls short in missing person DNA testing and in the creation of a ‘gold standard’ data bank.

The newspaper also found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will not directly pay for DNA testing in cases of missing persons and unidentified remains. As well, it will be up to police and other investigators to decide which types of DNA to profile, while in the U.S. a centralized lab always attempts to analyze both types. This approach means Canada’s DNA Data Bank will not be as well-populated or as consistent as the one in the U.S.

Last year, Canada’s federal government promised to commit $8.1 million, for five years starting in 2016-2017, and another $1.3 million per year on a continuing basis, to create a DNA-based missing persons index that will match DNA from missing persons and unidentified remains to information in the country’s national DNA Data Bank.

The DNA-based Missing Persons Index would supplement the work currently underway at the RCMP National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains.

This new, independent funding would be used to support police forces and coroners in submitting samples from unidentified remains and personal effects from missing persons and facilitate the comparison of DNA profiles with samples from the National DNA Data Bank.

The Index, once created, would ideally help bring closure to the families of missing persons through DNA matching. But the newspaper notes that Canada is years behind the U.S. and the United Kingdom in identifying its anonymous dead. In Canada, over 19,000 adults and 46,000 children were reported missing in 2011. Further, the country has a crisis involving murdered and missing indigenous women. According to the RCMP, 1,181 aboriginal women were killed or disappeared between 1980 and 2012; and of those, 164 are missing. DNA testing will be the key to resolving these crimes.

The existing DNA Data Bank however is only designed to improve the administration of justice by contributing to the early identification of those who commit serious crimes. The system helps linking crimes where there are no suspects, helps to identify and eliminate suspects, and helps determine if serious crimes are serial in nature. In 2013, $5.3 million was spent to maintain Canada’s DNA Data Bank. The new Index will be key to solving missing persons cases, but at this time, there is no plan to determine how those cases will be prioritized in terms of human or financial resources.

Previously, the publisher of BiometricUpdate.com, the Biometrics Research Group, Inc. estimated that law enforcement spending on forensic DNA databases throughout North America will total approximately $750 million in 2015.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.