Canada Takes DNA Database Lead

12:20 p.m. Jul. 5, 2000 PDT

OTTAWA -- Canada unveiled on Wednesday what it said was the world's most sophisticated DNA database, capable of identifying criminals through analysis of minute amounts of blood, semen, or skin cells.

The DNA Data Bank will include samples of DNA -- the unique building blocks of every living thing -- from young offenders as well as adults who are convicted of serious crimes. It will also include DNA taken from crime scenes.

DNA databases already exist in the United States, Germany, Britain, Norway, Finland, Belgium, and Denmark.

But Canadian officials said the new C$10 million database, located at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police headquarters in Ottawa, was the most automated and sophisticated of its kind.

"I would think that Canada stands on firm ground as being one of the forerunners in this technology and certainly we've done a great deal to improve the speed of the analysis," said Dr. Ron Fourney, who is in charge of the database.

"The innovations we've developed that make it unique will be the robotics and certainly the cost effectiveness," he told a news conference at the official launch.

Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAuley, the minister in overall charge of Canada's law enforcement agencies, said the database was a powerful tool that would change the way in which police conducted many criminal investigations.

"It will help solve serious crimes more quickly and assist in identifying repeat offenders more effectively and with more certainty. It will help police to focus their resources on key suspects by excluding the innocent more quickly," he said.

The Mounties have been using DNA analysis since 1989 and the new database marks a major step forward in the fight against violent, sexual and repeat offenders, who will be required to give blood samples.

The database -- will cost C$5 million a year to run -- takes five days to process a single sample. Police estimate some 30,000 samples from known serious offenders, suspected criminals, and crime scenes will be processed a year.

"When we started 10 years (ago) we might have needed a biological sample which was the size of a penny. Today's technology is so revolutionary that 10 percent of what would fit on the head of a pin is all we'd need to do a case," Fourney said.

Officials stressed that to protect the right to privacy, stringent safeguards had been built into the system to ensure suspects' names did not appear on the DNA samples.

Fourney said Canada was negotiating with other nations that possess DNA databanks to set up a system whereby genetic information can be exchanged.

Samples from convicted criminals will be kept permanently on file so that they can be processed again once more advanced technology becomes available.

"I think the DNA Data Bank will be as revolutionary a tool for law enforcement today as fingerprinting was when it was first introduced 100 years ago," said Superintendent Lee Fraser, manager of Canada's Forensic Identification Service.

"Our goal is to catch criminals and in the game of crime, knowing who the bad guys are, being able to single them out and linking them irrefutably to their crimes is a very important tool," he told the news conference.

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