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Audrey Auger weeps as she looks at a display of missing and murdered women along Highway 16 during the Highway of Tears Symposium Thursday, Marchc 30, 2006 in Prince George, B.C.. The body of Auger's 14-year-old daughter, Aielah Saric-Auger, was found Feb. 10 in a ditch along Highway 16 East, about 20 kilometres east of Prince George.Dave Milne/The Canadian Press

The RCMP have taken DNA samples from more than 100 cab drivers in Prince George as part of their investigation into three homicides and a missing woman's case.

DNA samples were requested in the investigations of the deaths of Aielah Saric Auger, Jill Stuchenko and Cynthia Maas, and the disappearance of Natasha Montgomery, RCMP Corporal Annie Linteau said Tuesday in an interview.

Aielah, who was found murdered along Highway 16 just east of Prince George in February, 2006, is one of 18 victims along the so-called highway of tears. The 14-year-old high school student was last seen at a Prince George pub.

The body of Ms. Stuchenko, a 35-year-old mother of five who worked for an escort service, was found in a remote gravel pit in October, 2009. Ms. Montgomery, 23, has been missing since August, 2010. Ms. Maas was reported missing in August, 2010, and her body found in October, 2010, in L.C. Gunn Park in an area frequented by prostitutes.

The RCMP asked cab drivers last fall for DNA samples, a dispatcher at Emerald Taxi who refused to provide his name said on Tuesday in a phone interview. "The police asked the company to co-operate. We gave them a list and they called everyone in," he said.

Some of the drivers knew the women, he added. "They [the women]were night people," he said. "They tend to take taxis a lot and had been seen in taxis. So [the police]wanted to ask the drivers a few questions. When in the interview, they asked for DNA," he said. As far as he knew, no one refused, he added.

Sam Kuuluvainen, manager of Prince George Taxi, has been reported as saying that police also asked for DNA from his company's drivers, who were told they would come under suspicion if they did not comply.

Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said suggesting someone would become a suspect for refusing to provide a DNA sample could be considered coercion. She said she found the reports of the demand for DNA "deeply troubling."

"This kind of offhanded suggestion that we will somehow put you on a dragnet of suspected persons if you refuse to do what you can voluntarily decline to do is the nub of the problem here," Ms. Vonn said in an interview. "The idea that they suggest failure to co-operate makes you a suspect is problematic."

Cpl. Linteau said requesting DNA samples from those who had contact with a victim, whether personally or because they were in the area, is a standard investigative practice. "It allows investigators to narrow the focus of their investigation," she said, since it enables police to rule out certain individuals.

The cab drivers were under no obligation to provide the DNA samples, she said, adding that every driver signed a consent form.

Cpl. Linteau declined to comment on whether officers told cab drivers that they would come under suspicion if they did not provide a DNA sample. "I was not there. It is difficult to speak to that," she said.

Once the DNA samples are used for comparison purposes in the four cases, they will be destroyed and will not be used in any other investigation, she said.

The investigation into the Prince George cases is continuing. The RCMP said in November they had collected more than 400 DNA samples as part of the highway of tears investigation.



With a report from The Canadian Press