A Family’s Guide to the National Missing Persons DNA Program
Submitting DNA for missing persons investigations
On this page
- Collecting the missing person's DNA
- Collecting DNA samples from blood relatives
- Collecting DNA from children
- DNA comparisons
- Incidental findings
- Withdrawing DNA profiles
- Notification of a DNA match or association
- Commitment to privacy
When a person is reported missing, investigators use various methods to find them. If more traditional methods aren't successful, the investigator may recommend DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) analysis which could provide potential leads in the investigation or might help identify human remains. This guide will provide you with general information about the National Missing Persons DNA Program (NMPDP) and the role that DNA might have in the investigation of a missing person.
The NMPDP was created as a humanitarian initiative to help investigations involving missing people or unidentified human remains. It is based on the voluntary submission of DNA for comparison to DNA profiles already in the National DNA Data Bank. You might be asked to submit your own DNA, or the missing person's DNA.
Canada's DNA Identification Act is specific about the types of comparisons in the National DNA Data Bank that are allowed under the NMPDP.
The value of DNA analysis to identify a person lies in the fact that DNA is found in the genetic makeup of all living things. Plus no two individuals, with the exception of identical twins, have the same DNA. The ability to associate a missing person to a family member depends on how closely related the family member is to the missing person. This is because DNA of close relatives is more similar than the DNA of distant relatives and because each person receives half their DNA from their mother and half from their father. The most useful DNA samples are from close blood relatives such as the missing person's biological mother, father, children, brothers or sisters.
Collecting the missing person's DNA
Submitting a missing person's DNA to the program is voluntary. A family may choose to not provide an item with DNA from the missing person, without reprisal or fear of discrimination. However, without this DNA, it may be more difficult to identify or locate the missing person.
Investigators may be able to collect the missing person's DNA from:
- personal items used only by that person, such as a toothbrush or hairbrush
- medical samples such as items removed during surgery, blood work, or a medical specimen stored at a hospital or clinic
The investigator may collect multiple items in the event that the missing person's DNA cannot be recovered from one.
The person providing the item(s) from the missing person will be asked to complete a form indicating that they have been informed and understand how the DNA profile from the missing person will be used, including the comparison with DNA profiles collected from crime scenes. They must understand that a DNA match to another police investigation could be used as evidence against the missing person in a criminal investigation and in a subsequent prosecution.
Collecting DNA samples from blood relatives
In consultation with the family, the investigator will identify the most suitable family members for submitting DNA samples. Anyone from whom a DNA sample is collected must provide written consent to take part in the program. Once you've given your consent, the investigator will collect samples of your DNA. The types of DNA samples requested are generally:
- blood (only a very small amount is required)
- a mouth swab (taken from the inside of the cheek)
Investigators may collect DNA from non-blood relatives (e.g., a roommate or spouse) to exclude them as the source of DNA found on a personal item belonging to the missing person.
A family member can choose to not provide their DNA sample, without reprisal or fear of discrimination. However, without their DNA, it may be more difficult to identify or locate the missing person.
Collecting DNA from children
Investigators need written consent from a parent or legal guardian before collecting a DNA sample from someone under the age of 18. Once the person reaches the age of 18, they will be asked to submit their own written consent (before their 19th birthday) in order to keep their DNA profile in the National DNA Data Bank.
When submitting a DNA sample from the child of a missing person, it's also helpful to submit DNA from the child's other biological parent, in order to determine which part of the child's DNA came from the missing parent.
Investigators send DNA samples to the National DNA Data Bank to develop DNA profiles. The profiles are uploaded into the appropriate index and immediately compared to other DNA profiles in the data bank as permitted by the DNA Identification Act.
DNA profiles developed from items of a missing person are entered into the Missing Persons Index within the National DNA Data Bank. These profiles are compared to all other DNA profiles in the data bank, including DNA from:
- Unidentified Human Remains
- Convicted offenders
- Crime scenes
DNA profiles from missing persons can be sent for international comparison.
DNA profiles submitted by family members are entered into the Relatives of Missing Persons Index. These may be used to confirm that the DNA taken from items belonging to the missing person does indeed belong to the missing person. Profiles in the Relatives of Missing Persons Index:
- Can only be compared to DNA profiles of missing persons or unidentified human remains
- Can't be compared to DNA profiles from convicted offenders or crime scenes
- Can't be sent for international comparison
DNA profiles are continually being added to the data bank and searches are conducted regularly. A match or association could happen at any time: immediately, long term or not at all.
DNA comparisons may reveal information that's different from what people know about their family members. This information won't be revealed unless it's necessary for the investigation.
Withdrawing DNA profiles
DNA profiles and related information are removed from the National DNA Data Bank when:
- you withdraw your consent (for your DNA profile) at any time by writing to the investigating agency
- the investigation has been resolved
- automatically after five years if the RCMP can't confirm from the investigator that the DNA profile is still needed, the investigation is still ongoing, and consent has not been withdrawn
No further DNA comparisons can be made once the DNA profiles are removed from the National DNA Data Bank.
Notification of a DNA match or association
The program will inform the investigator when there is a DNA association to a family member or a DNA match to a missing person. The investigator should contact you directly with information that's relevant to the investigation.
Commitment to privacy
The DNA Identification Act, which establishes the authority for the National Missing Persons DNA Program, was written to respect Canadian privacy laws and safeguard personal information. Any comparisons made within the National DNA Data Bank are strictly controlled. Details are included in the Privacy Statement and consent forms that the investigator provides to a family member before a sample is collected.
If you have concerns related to the collection, use, disclosure or retention of personal information under the National Missing Persons DNA Program, contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
Address: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
30 Victoria Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 1H3
Telephone: 1-800-282-1376 (toll-free)
Website: File a formal privacy complaint
If you have any requests or questions about the National Missing Persons DNA Program, contact the investigator for the missing person's case.
Acknowledgement : RCMP gratefully acknowledges the use of material from Identifying Missing persons Using DNA: A Guide for Families, April 2005, a brochure developed by the (US) National Institute of Justice and The National Human Genome Research Institute.
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