DNA Modernization Missing from Government's Crime Bill
October 3, 2011, Ottawa, ON – Bill C-10, the government's crime legislation, overlooks the opportunity to modernize laws regarding DNA forensic evidence. The bill therefore neglects one of the single most effective reforms that Ottawa could enact to solve and reduce the most serious violent offences according to crime expert Scott Newark in the latest instalment of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's newest series, Straight Talk.
In Canada, when police charge someone with an indictable offence, they are authorized to take fingerprints, but not a DNA sample. It is only when someone is convicted of a crime that a DNA sample can be taken, and even then, the sample is often neither collected nor recorded. According to Newark, in one analysis of those convicted of serious offences, fewer than 50 percent actually had their DNA collected. For secondary offences, only 20 percent of potential samples were collected. This is critical because a disproportionately large volume of crime is committed by a disproportionately small number of offenders, especially in the case of violent and sexual crimes. He says, "By having a DNA database of defined offenders, we increase our ability to solve unsolved crimes as well as preventing future ones by catching guys who have committed crimes and left trace evidence behind."
There are very simple amendments that can be made to modernize the DNA database because Canada already has the fingerprinting model in the Identification of Criminals Act as well as the basic DNA authorizations in the Criminal Code. Newark identifies three key issues that any new legislation must cover with respect to DNA collection:
- It must be done at the point when the individual is arrested and charged on defined offences;
- It must be mandatory, as with fingerprinting; and
- It must apply to those people currently in custody or still under sentence on defined offences.
Newark concludes, "These reforms will certainly assist in solving unsolved serious crimes, including homicides and serious sexual crimes where there is trace evidence available. It will also address the suspects whose samples we do not have even though they're charged with or under sentence for designated offences. So, it is not just a crime-solving tool it is, also, a crime-prevention tool."
Scott Newark is a former Crown Prosecutor and author of several studies on crime and justice issues, including Why Canadian crime statistics don't add up (February, 2011), and an earlier edition of Straight Talk on parole reform (September 2011), both published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.