The National Missing Persons DNA Program

Backgrounder

In 2017, over 78,000 Canadians were reported to police as missing. Of those, approximately 88 per cent were found within seven days. Generally, of those people reported missing in a given year, approximately 500 remain missing after one year. The resolution of these cases would bring much-needed answers and relief to families of missing persons.

The RCMP created the National Missing Persons DNA Program to support missing persons and unidentified remains investigations at a national level. It leverages the work already provided by two RCMP programs — the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) and the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB).

Over the past 18 years, the use of DNA has become one of the most important tools available to police and prosecutors. Changes to the DNA Identification Act have now come into force, allowing for the creation of three new humanitarian indices within the NDDB: The Missing Persons Index; The Human Remains Index and; The Relatives of Missing Persons Index. In addition, two new criminal indices have been added: The Victims Index and The Voluntary Donors Index, further strengthening the support that the NDDB can provide to criminal investigations.

The addition of the new humanitarian indices marks the first time that DNA profiles from missing persons and unidentified human remains will be able to be added to the NDDB to determine if there is a match to each other or to a convicted offender or crime scene DNA profile. The legislation allows the DNA profiles from missing persons and human remains to be compared against the approximately 500,000 DNA profiles in the NDDB. For privacy reasons, the reference samples from the relatives of missing persons will only be compared to the humanitarian DNA profiles in the NDDB and will never be compared against DNA profiles developed from crime scenes or convicted offenders.

NCMPUR will be responsible for interacting with investigators of missing persons and unidentified remains, providing advice on how to use DNA and communicating any matches made in the NDDB. The NDDB will be responsible for implementing and managing the new indices, developing DNA profiles for the humanitarian indices, conducting comparisons and providing scientific expertise and advice.

The National Missing Persons DNA Program will be a valuable new tool for all Canadian police. The more DNA profiles that are added to the NDDB, the more useful the Program will be in assisting investigations. Having the RCMP process the samples for the humanitarian indices also ensures that the Program is truly national in scope by providing equal access to the same consistent service to every police force and coroner/medical examiner’s office across Canada and at no additional cost.

This broadening of the national use of DNA identification for humanitarian purposes will facilitate police investigations but also enable a national response for the identification of victims of mass disasters (e.g. SwissAir Flight 111). While not a solution for solving all outstanding missing persons investigations, the introduction of the new indices will ensure that all investigative avenues available to police are being pursued.

For more information: Questions and Answers – National Missing Persons DNA Program

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