Questions and answers
About the National Missing Persons DNA Program (NMPDP)
Why is the NMPDP important?
The NMPDP is a nationally coordinated program to advance missing persons and unidentified remains investigations. It leverages the support already provided by the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) and the scientific support the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB) already provides to criminal investigations.
The Program is significant, because for the first time, the NDDB is able to retain or compare profiles from non-criminal missing persons or unidentified remains investigations. In addition, it will be able to retain or compare victim or volunteer DNA to help support criminal investigations. It can offer closure to the families and friends of missing persons by identifying human remains or exhausting all investigative avenues.
As a national Program, the NMPDP provides equal access to the same consistent service by every police force and coroner's and medical examiner's office across Canada.
How can the Missing Persons Index help to locate missing persons?
DNA profiles in the Missing Persons Index will be compared to DNA profiles in other indices in the NDDB. If a match is made, it could serve to identify a found human remain or place a missing person at a crime scene to help establish a known location and specific time associated with the missing person. This will provide valuable assistance to investigators to resolve a case or provide new avenues of investigation that might not otherwise be available.
How can the Relatives of Missing Persons Index help to locate missing persons?
DNA profiles provided by relatives are known reference samples and serve two purposes. They can be used to help confirm the identity of a person whose DNA profile is contained in the missing persons index (e.g. from a personal effect). They can also be used to assist in the identification of human remains if DNA from the missing person is unavailable.
How will the DNA from a victim be used for criminal investigations?
A victim could be unidentified and missing, deceased or unable to identify themselves due to a medical condition. Comparing their DNA profile directly with one of the NDDB indices could help establish their identity.
During the course of violent crimes against a person, a victim's DNA can be left on the offender and later found at other locations or crime scenes. Similarly, some serial sexual predators take trophies from the scenes of their crimes that might be left or found at the scene of a future crime. By comparing a victim's DNA against DNA found at crime scenes, police would be able to rapidly identify serial offenders, link cases and provide investigative leads.
How does the Voluntary Donor Index work?
DNA only requires minute traces of biological material to be used and may be readily transferred from one point to another. The first purpose of the Voluntary Donor Index is to eliminate the DNA of a person who has contaminated or inadvertently left a biological sample at a crime scene.
Having their DNA profile in the Voluntary Donors Index would allow the local forensic laboratory or the NDDB to rapidly exclude their DNA from a mixed DNA profile, leaving only the DNA relevant to the investigation.
The second purpose is where the use of DNA from a voluntary donor could provide leads in a criminal investigation. An example of this is a serial sexual offender who breaks into an individual's house and, after committing an offence, takes an item (e.g., an article of clothing, jewelry, firearm, etc.) belonging to someone other than the victim (perhaps a roommate). If the offender uses that item in the commission of other offences, and leaves the item at a crime scene, DNA material from the owner could be left at these new crime scenes. By having the DNA profile of the owner of the item in the Voluntary Donors Index, police are able to link the crime scenes and potentially identify the serial offender.
Why did it take so long for the new indices to be added to the NDDB and for the Program to launch?
The changes to the DNA Identification Act that made the National Missing Persons DNA Program possible were passed in late 2014. It took time to implement the Program, which involved system upgrades, staffing, training, building laboratory space, and the development of new procedures at both the NDDB and the NCMPUR. In addition, the legislation called for several new regulations to be established regarding retention and consent in relation to the new indices.
In 2017, following the completion of a review of the service delivery model, it was determined that biological samples for missing persons and unidentified remains investigations would be processed by the RCMP's NDDB, as opposed to private laboratories. This important change helped ensure that the Program would be truly national in scope by providing equal access to the same consistent service across Canada, at no additional cost to the submitting agencies.
How will DNA profiles be submitted to the National Missing Persons DNA Program?
Biological samples to be processed into DNA profiles will be submitted to the NDDB by police, medical examiners and Coroners. In order to use DNA analysis in the investigation of missing persons and unidentified human remains, the investigator must be able to show that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the comparison of DNA profiles will assist in the investigation, and that other investigative procedures have been tried and failed, are unlikely to succeed, or that the urgency of the situation requires the use of DNA analysis. These requirements are stipulated in the DNA Identification Act.
The missing person or unidentified remains investigator will consult with NCMPUR on these requirements in order to receive authorization to submit biological samples or DNA profiles. The investigating agency is responsible for collecting biological samples (including personal effects of a missing person) and consent as defined by the regulations. These are sent to the NDDB to develop DNA profiles from collected samples for entry into the three humanitarian indices. If the investigator has a DNA profile developed by any other laboratory, that laboratory must be audited for quality assurance and scientific acceptance by the NDDB before the DNA profile can be accepted for the NMPDP.
DNA profiles for the VI and the VDI are typically developed during a criminal investigation, and will be submitted by public forensic laboratories to the NDDB using established practices and networks without NCMPUR involvement.
Can DNA from any missing person/found human remains investigation be submitted to the NMPDP or does it need to meet certain criteria?
The DNA Identification Act specifies the thresholds that are to be met before a DNA profile can be included in the humanitarian indices:
- There must be reasonable grounds to suspect the profile will assist in the investigation of a missing person or unidentified human remains; and
- Other investigative procedures have been tried and failed, are unlikely to succeed, or that exigent circumstances exist.
Additional thresholds must be met before a missing person's DNA profile can be used for criminal investigation purposes:
- The primary purpose of obtaining a sample for addition to the MPI is to support the missing person investigation.
- If a DNA profile added to the MPI establishes a link to an unrelated criminal investigation, subsequent communication of this information will be at the discretion of the investigator for the missing person case and there must be reasonable grounds to suspect that this information would assist in the investigation or prosecution of a designated offence.
How are you ensuring the privacy of information with the new indices?
The DNA Identification Act legislation clearly describes how humanitarian DNA may be used to support investigations as outlined in the question above. For instance, it is not permitted for anyone to use or communicate any DNA information for a purpose other than that which is stated in the act. Mitigating measures have also been built into the legislation to prevent the misuse of indices.
In addition, there are four provisions that address the comparison and communication of DNA information in the legislation.
- It is an offence for anyone to use or communicate any DNA information for a purpose other than that which is stated in the Act.
- There are legislative restrictions on which DNA profiles can be compared from one index to another. Notably, the Relatives of Missing Persons Index may only be compared to the Missing Persons Index and the Human Remains Index, and not to any of the criminal indices. This distinction required separate provisions in the legislation.
- The legislation maintains a clear delineation between uses for criminal purposes and uses for humanitarian purposes (specifically, assisting investigations of missing persons or unidentified remains). The communication provisions are similarly delineated.
- There are different conditions under which information from a match/association may be communicated, depending on the index. Those conditions are set out in the various provisions.
How long do DNA profiles remain in the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB)?
Informed consent is required before DNA profiles will be included in the Relatives of Missing Persons Index, the Victims Index, or the Voluntary Donors Index. DNA profiles in the new indices will remain in the NDDB as long as consent has not been withdrawn (for those profiles requiring donor consent). Individuals who have voluntarily submitted their DNA for inclusion can withdraw their consent at any time by notifying the investigating agency or NCMPUR in writing. Their DNA profile will then be removed from the NDDB.
Other instances where a biological sample would be removed from the NDDB and destroyed would be when the missing person is located or their remains are identified, or the investigating agency or stewards of the Program believe that the DNA profile will no longer assist in the investigation.
As an extra precaution, at least every five years, the NMPDP will conduct a periodic review and contact the investigating agencies that submitted the DNA profiles to ensure that the profiles remain associated with an ongoing investigation and that the donors have not withdrawn consent to their DNA profile. If that check is inconclusive or the agency fails to respond, the biological sample contained in the NDDB will be destroyed and the DNA profile and information related to the DNA profile will be removed from the appropriate index.
What happens if an association is made?
The NCMPUR will contact the investigators involved should there be any associations between DNA profiles in the humanitarian indices. Should a DNA profile in a humanitarian index match a DNA profile in one of the criminal indices, NCMPUR will provide the missing person or unidentified remains investigator with the information needed to contact the criminal investigator. Matches that do not involve the humanitarian indices are reported to the criminal investigator through the submitting public laboratories. When the NDDB identifies an association involving both the humanitarian indices and the criminal indices, the investigators of the missing persons or found remains cases are responsible for subsequent sharing of information and confirmation of the association.
How many people are reported missing every year?
The number fluctuates every year, however, there were 78,035 persons who were reported to police as going missing in 2017.
Of those reported as missing in 2017, approximately 88 % were found within seven days. Generally, of those people reported missing in a given year, approximately 500 remain missing after one year.
More figures and details can be found on the Canada's Missing website.
How many unidentified remains cases are reported every year?
This number fluctuates year to year, but there are currently just over 650 unresolved cases of unidentified remains in the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and NCMPUR's database. Approximately 40-100 new cases on average can be reported in a given year.
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