RCMP partners with New York Academy of Art to identify the lost

January 3, 2020
Ottawa, Ontario

News release

There are currently over 700 unidentified remains in the RCMP's national database of missing persons and unidentified remains. Without knowing their identities, it's impossible to return them home. With the help of a unique partnership, the RCMP is giving a face to some of these people, in the hopes of unlocking the mystery of who they are.

For the first time, the RCMP is partnering with the New York Academy of Art to reconstruct the faces of Canadian unidentified human remains. From January 6 to 10, the Academy is hosting a forensic sculpture workshop, using 3D printed versions of 15 real skulls supplied by the RCMP. Academy students will put their anatomical knowledge and artistic skills to work in order to reconstruct each of the faces with clay.

The skulls' journey to New York began with the British Columbia Coroners Service and the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service, which provided the skulls for this initiative. Technicians from the National Research Council (NRC) flew to British Columbia and Nova Scotia to scan the skulls. Back in Ottawa, NRC specialists printed 3D versions of the skulls using powdered, laser-melted nylon. The skulls were printed in batches of four, with each batch taking approximately 48 hours to complete, including cooling time. Once cooled, the skulls were cleaned using a combination of brushes and compressed air to remove residual nylon powder. NRC staff used dental picks when necessary to clean the tiniest nooks and crannies.

During the week of January 6, the RCMP will be documenting the entire process on its social media channels, beginning with the scanning process and ending with a completed reconstruction. Following the week-long workshop, 15 new faces will be revealed and will be featured on the Canada's Missing website, in the hopes of generating tips from the public that could tell us who they are and giving some closure to families.

The RCMP hopes to eventually bring this type of workshop to Canada, to build facial recognition capacity here and bring more people home.


"The RCMP is very excited about this partnership with the New York Academy of Art. This was a unique opportunity to have 15 Canadian faces reconstructed in a single week. The Academy is world-renowned for its teaching techniques, and we look forward to benefitting from the work of its talented students. We hope to give a face and a name to people whose loved ones don't know what happened to them."

Chief Superintendent Marie-Claude Arsenault, Officer in charge, Sensitive and Specialized Investigative Services, RCMP

"The forensic sculpture workshop at the New York Academy of Art, originally developed in partnership with the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, has reconstructed dozens of faces of unknown persons from discovered remains all over the US. In 2020, we are excited to partner with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to work on Canadian unknown persons. The Forensic Sculpture initiative is both a unique merging of art and science and extraordinarily meaningful for our artists."

John Volk, Director of Continuing Studies and founding partner for the Forensic Sculpture initiative at the New York Academy of Art

Quick facts

  • The RCMP maintains Canada's Missing, which is a public database of missing persons and unidentified remains. Cases are added to Canada's Missing at the discretion of the lead investigator.
  • The 15 Canadian skulls are all male, and were located between 1972 and 2019. These particular skulls were chosen for this initiative because they were in the best overall condition.
  • The New York Academy of Art has been hosting its forensic sculpture workshop annually since 2015.
  • Since 2015, four visual identifications have been directly attributed to facial reconstructions performed during the workshop.

Associated links


Contact information

RCMP National Media Relations

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