National DNA Data Bank celebrates 20 years of service to law enforcement
Twenty years ago, DNA was a relatively new tool and like all areas of forensic science, it has evolved over time. Today, forensic science, including DNA analysis, plays a significant role in crime scene investigations and has proven to be a powerful tool for the administration of justice.
While DNA made its first appearance in Canadian courtrooms in the late 1980s, it was not until 2000 that legislation led to the creation of the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB). This meant that for the first time, it was now possible to collect and store the DNA profiles of convicted offenders and of unknown DNA from crime scenes.
The main goals of the NDDB are to link crime scenes across jurisdictions, help identify or eliminate a suspect, and determine whether a serial offender has been involved in certain crimes whether the crimes took place locally, across the country, or halfway around the world. Since its creation, investigators at all levels have worked with their provincial and national forensic laboratories to collect biological evidence from crime scenes and create DNA profiles for the NDDB.
On June 30, 2020, both the law enforcement and criminal justice communities recognize the important contributions of the NDDB, operated by the RCMP, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
“The National DNA Databank is a powerful tool that provides trusted evidence in support of criminal and humanitarian investigations,” said RCMP Deputy Commissioner Stephen White. “This year marks an opportunity to reflect on the partnerships and contributions coordinated by the NDDB and to take a moment to recognize the important work that the NDDB provides to all Canadians in support of public safety.”
When the NDDB first started its operations, it had the slow and steady task of building the database. In 1989, a blood sample the size of a quarter was needed to develop a DNA profile. Today, a sample the size of about 10 per cent of what would fit on the head of a pin is all that is required.
Currently, the NDDB stores over half a million DNA profiles of sexual and dangerous offenders and others in Canada who have been convicted of certain offences. Between offender hits (matching a crime scene to an offender) and forensic hits (matching a crime scene to another crime scene), the NDDB has produced more than 62,000 hits. Today it averages approximately 31 offender hits and forensic hits each day.
In 2018, new legislation allowed the NDDB to expand its role to not only support criminal investigations, but also humanitarian investigations, specifically those involving missing people and unidentified human remains. The National Missing Person’s DNA Program* is intended to support victim identification and provide loved ones with some answers. With the assistance of the program, the remains of six victims have been identified so far.
*The National Missing Persons DNA Program is a partnership between the RCMP’s National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains and the National DNA Data Bank