VICTORIA – Private members’ bills -- legislation proposed by an MLA rather than the government – have about as much chance of becoming law as the proverbial snowball in Hades. The same goes for motions put before the House by individual MLAs.
MLAs, usually those of the opposition kind, introduce them by the dozen every session, only to see them die when the legislature adjourns at the end of summer, ignored and rejected by the government in power.
But there is one motion before the B.C. Legislature this session that shouldn’t be ignored: Barry Penner, MLA for Chilliwack, recently introduced a motion urging the federal government to establish a nationwide DNA bank.
The premise of Penner’s proposal is that any convicted killer’s or sexual offender’s DNA goes into a databank, accessible to police across Canada. If the person offends again, his or her DNA could then easily be compared to any of the stored samples.
The idea is compelling, and its basic premise isn’t new. In solving crimes, police have relied on finger print databanks for years. Without it, their hands would be tied even more than they are.
Penner was prompted to pursue his proposal as a result of the RCMP’s frustration over the so-called Abbotsford Killer case, in which Tanya Smith, and Abbotsford teenager was slain.
An RCMP officer told him that they had found enough DNA samples at the crime scene to convict a suspect if a match could be made. Police, however, had no suspect, from whom, in accordance with a law passed in 1995, they could have taken a DNA sample.
If, on the other hand, there were a nationwide databank of DNA samples from convicted sex offenders and murders, the DNA found at the sight could be compared to all samples stored in the databank. And if a match is made, a conviction would probably follow.
"I thought about this idea and I wondered whether it would work, considering the restrictions that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms might impose," says Penner, a lawyer himself.
He hit the law books and came up with two Supreme Court of Canada cases where the current requirement to provide fingerprints prior to conviction was challenged and upheld.
There’s no doubt that any such DNA databank would best work if ever person accused of a crime were required to provide a DNA sample, similar to the requirement to provide fingerprints.
To avoid a lengthy constitutional battle, however, Penner believes it’s better to err on the side of caution and make DNA samples a mandatory requirement only after conviction for murder and sex crimes. The disadvantage is that only repeat offenders would be identified as a result of a DNA match.
Penner points out that DNA samples can not only help convict a criminal, but free someone falsely accused of a crime, as in the case of Paul Morin.
He says that according to federal government estimates, it would cost about $3 million a year to operate a DNA databank, a small price to pay, considering the help it will give police is solving violent crimes. Administering the controversial gun control law costs about 10 times as much.
Penner’s motion should receive the unanimous support of the legislature. Unfortunately, before it gets to that stage, it must be put on the agenda by the government.
In the interest of the public, the NDP government should forget about partisan politics in this case and depart from the tradition of ignoring opposition motions.
The DNA databank Penner wants the legislature to endorse could go a long way to putting away sexual predators. And that’s more important than any petty partisan squabbling.