National DNA databank for missing persons up and running after years of delay

National DNA databank for missing persons up and running after years of delay

On Aug. 2 1993, 14-year-old Lindsey Nicholls went walking down a rural road in Vancouver Island's Comox Valley. That was the last anyone saw of her.

Her mother, Judy Peterson, believes her daughter was hitchhiking. Police believe she met with foul play, she says.

"She vanished," Peterson said. "They believe she was abducted, I'm sure."

Nearly 25 years later, she now has new hope for answers as Lindsey's Law comes into effect.

The law expands Canada's national DNA databank to include DNA from missing persons across the country, such as from personal effects like toothbrushes or clothing. It will also include DNA profiles from relatives and unidentified human remains.

Peterson signed the consent forms to add Lindsey's DNA into the databank on Friday, making her daughter's the first missing person DNA to be included.

"It's almost unbelievable. We've waited so long," she said. "It's a big step for me."

Peterson is confident that as the databank grows and receives DNA from families and crime scenes, it will help solve cases like her daughter's.

She also is hopeful that the expansion could lead to arrests and charges in missing persons cases.

Long delays

DNA technology has been used in criminal cases for nearly 30 years but efforts to expand the databank have seen mired by delays.

Regulators say the long delay in setting up the databank was to deal with privacy and technical issues around the collection and use of DNA.

With the popularity of shows like CSI, Peterson says her "TV brain" assumed the databank must have always collected DNA of missing persons like Lindsey.

But in 2000, Peterson found out she was wrong. Thus, she said, began 18 years of lobbying for the databank's expansion.

"I've been through seven public safety ministers. When I started, they were still solicitor generals," she said.

In 2014, the federal government committed $8 million to expand the database so coroners, medical examiners and police could centralize their DNA indexes.

Peterson says her hope is that other families are spared some of the pain that hers has endured.

"It's the comfort of knowing ... that everything possible is being done to find her and get answers," she said.