(This column was published in the North Shore News on Aug. 11, 2004)
Solve crimes quickly with DNA
By Leo Knight
ON Friday, Todd Bryce Stoute, 20, was arrested at his Aurora, Ont. home, accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl, then tossing her into a dumpster.
The horrific crime occurred on June 26 after the victim left a downtown Toronto nightclub. She was walking down the street when an SUV pulled up beside her. Two men jumped out, clubbed her over the head, blindfolded her, tossed her into the vehicle and clubbed her again.
She was sexually assaulted and abused by both men and thrown into the dumpster.
A nightmare crime: a stranger abduction done with ferocity and speed. It was an absolute random act. Every woman's nightmare.
Stoute was identified by police as a suspect in the crime by running suspect or unknown DNA taken from the victim through the national DNA databank for police investigations which came into being in this country in 2000.
Stoute was ordered by a judge to provide a sample for the databank following a conviction for robbery.
Were it not for that order, Stoute might never have been identified as a suspect in this brutal crime.
Yet, Stoute had a significant criminal history. Unfortunately, when people are arrested in Canada, the police are able to take their fingerprints, but not a DNA sample. Frankly, this makes no sense.
The police community had been calling for a DNA databank throughout the '90s and the government finally listened and introduced legislation in 1998 which finally passed into law in June of 2000.
But typically with our federal government, the measures only went halfway.
The police are only allowed to collect DNA samples from persons convicted of specific crimes designated in a section of the Criminal Code. The authorization must be made by the presiding judge at sentencing. Then, and only then, can the police collect the sample for addition to the databank.
The national databank is a good idea and in this day and age, an absolutely necessary tool for detectives looking into serious crimes.
The technology first used in the United Kingdom in a murder case described in Joseph Wambaugh's The Blooding, allows for positive identification of a suspect to a crime scene through evidence such as semen, blood or hair found by police.
It's one thing for the police to have an identified suspect then use a warrant to collect a DNA sample to match to crime scene unknown samples, as was used in the Cecelia Zhang murder case in Toronto recently.
But, the databank could be so much more effective if the police were allowed to collect samples following the arrest of suspects in the same manner as they collect fingerprints in the booking process. This would allow police in the early hours of an investigation to search the databank for suspects and possibly allow for a much earlier suspect identification and arrest, possibly, perhaps even likely, preventing additional crimes and victims.
Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino is a major proponent for expanding the legislation to allow police to take samples after an arrest. Fantino was quoted in press reports saying, "It's not like drawing a pint of blood. It's even less intrusive, I feel, than taking fingerprints."
Fantino is correct. A DNA sample is taken by simply taking a cotton swab along the inside of the cheek of the arrested individual. That's it. There's no needle, no blood and nothing more intrusive than that.
Fantino called for politicians to address this issue, "I just don't understand why our lawmakers would not appreciate the importance of this science in terms of enhancing public safety."
A spokesperson for Anne McLellan, Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said in response, "They (Parliament) decided that if the state was going to collect that kind of information, it needed to be on conviction and with judicial approval."
Which of course is nonsense. Fingerprint technology has been used in this country for the guts of a century.
They are taken at the point of arrest and to my knowledge there hasn't been a significant example of misuse or abuse of the system in all that time.
Why should DNA be any different?
Fantino thinks misplaced privacy concerns are why the government stopped halfway in this. He's probably right in that given that so-called privacy concerns have been used in all manner of policies and procedures which seem to do little more than protect criminals and make the job of police much harder than it need be.
The arrest of Stoute illustrates the value of the national DNA databank.
But it could be so much more if only the government would park their ridiculous resistance to what only makes sense. And maybe, just maybe, prevent some more people becoming victims needlessly.
With the amount of data the government already has on everyone the question is what are they really hiding with their overuse of how much they are protecting our privacy.
As Shakespeare would have said “‘they doth protest too much, methinks”
It appear one reason is that Government is selling addresses and telephone numbers to private companies.
Not discussed in this column is the Falsely Accused aspect where DNA has been used to prove that someone didn't do the crime, which is of some interest to those who are innocent.