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RCMP currently examining use of DNA familial searching

Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement

According to a recent article in the Ottawa Sun, using family-member DNA searches could help solve Canadian cold cases.

With the advent of highly detailed and accessible genetic databases, police forces can now search for DNA samples that are extremely similar, but which are not identical, to identity an unknown perpetrator. Utilizing this technique, law enforcement officials can attempt to analyze “familial matches” in DNA databases, in order to seek out other family members who are the real suspects of a crime.

According to RCMP spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, Canada’s national police force is “currently examining the issue of familial searching with a view to providing analysis and information to the Minister of Public Safety in the near future.”

“While familial DNA searching exists in some other countries, in Canada the DNA Identification Act currently does not allow for the conduct of familial searching in relation to the National DNA Data Bank,” Pfleiderer told the paper.

The article notes that Canada has been studying familial searching for about 10 years. The article also found that Canada’s National DNA Data Bank advisory committee stated in its 2012 report that the technique, which has been used in several other jurisdictions, has “led to the successful identification and conviction of offenders who would have remained at large” in the U.K.; identified a serial killer “who had terrorized the area for over 18 years and committed at least 10 murders” in California; and had also “led to the exoneration of an innocent person who had been convicted and served 19 years in prison prior to his brother being identified as the guilty party after a familial search was undertaken.”

While so-called “kinship searching” might provide benefits for families seeking justice in murder cases and provide police a new tool to investigate “cold cases”, the investigative technique has been criticized by civil liberties group for its potential to tie innocent people to criminal investigations. Canadian parliamentary research also found that Canada’s DNA database might be too small for familial searching to be effective.

Canada’s National DNA Data Bank was designed to improve the administration of justice by contributing to the early identification of those who commit serious crimes. The system helps link 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.

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