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Barry Shpeley’s daughter Candace went missing in 2007 at the age of 23. Mr. Shpeley, pictured here in Abbotsford, B.C., on Feb. 27, wants it to be mandatory for police to post missing-persons reports on the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains website after an individual has not been seen or heard from for a week.Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

Juanita Adams, a young mother, grew up on a South Dakota reserve. Jody King was a father of three. Ronald Norman was 42 years old and brain injured. Julie Grubaugh moved to Arizona for a fresh start with her ex-husband.

They had all vanished, some for decades, their bodies and bones eventually identified through breakthroughs in how the United States links and solves cases involving missing persons and unidentified human remains. Their identification brought some peace to tormented families. In some cases, it put police on the hunt for a killer.

The technological and scientific developments embraced by the United States – such as regular DNA matching, high-powered computer analysis and thorough data collection – are not complicated. But they are measures that Canada, with 697 anonymous dead, has yet to fully adopt, a Globe and Mail investigation has found.

The United States, which started looking more closely at its system for identifying the dead after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, is watching Canada's efforts – and waiting for its neighbour to narrow the gap.

"If we can do anything to help them get to where we're at," said Todd Matthews, director of case management and communications for the U.S.-based National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS). "We want people to catch up."

For families of missing aboriginal women in Canada, a better system for identifying the anonymous dead could bring answers and end painful uncertainty.

Some of these families were in Ottawa on Friday, as a national roundtable on violence against native women took place in the capital. Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-aboriginal women. Between 1980 and 2012, 1,181 aboriginal women were killed or disappeared, according to an unprecedented RCMP report released in May. Of that total, 164 were missing; some of them could be among Canada's anonymous dead.

The Globe pinpointed the number of unidentified through a survey of the country's coroners and medical examiners. At least 11 women who were or might have been aboriginal are among the nameless deceased, the survey reveals. Some of their deaths are being investigated as crimes.

The strategy that a country uses for identifying the deceased is vital: Without the right tools and funding, human remains may never be identified and killers may get to walk free.

Consider how these American cases were solved.

Mr. Norman's two-decade disappearance was explained thanks to an automated computer search that scoured thousands of missing-persons and human-remains records and found a match. Mr. King's body was identified through dental records uploaded by his aunt to a database for police, coroners and medical examiners.

A breakthrough in Ms. Grubaugh's cold case came after biological samples from her family were checked against profiles of the unidentified in a DNA data bank. The identification led police to open a homicide investigation. Ms. Adams, who was also killed, was identified with the help of forensic facial reconstruction and online outreach.

In Canada, these cases might have remained unsolved.

Unlike in the U.S. system, which is more citizen-driven, families of missing persons in Canada are not allowed to upload dental records and photos into the RCMP-led National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains. (NCMPUR).

While the United States launched a national missing-persons and unidentified-remains DNA data bank in 2000, Canada still does not have one – and will not until 2017. The American system is federally funded in a way Canada's will not be. The type of DNA testing planned for Canada's missing and unidentified will also be less consistent and, quite possibly, less effective.

And while Canada and the United States both have systems that feature cases online to solicit tips from the public and to aid police and death investigators, ours is still a work in progress. As of Feb. 26, the Canadian system's public website included profiles of 775 missing adults, 131 missing children and 105 unidentified remains. That is just 15 per cent of the remains recorded by The Globe.

The centre's broader database, which is only searchable by NCMPUR analysts, includes 431 unidentified remains, which means 266 anonymous dead are not in Canada's new automated computer system for comparing human remains against missing persons across the nation.

Further proof of the gap between the two countries' national strategies is in the numbers: The U.S.-based system has helped identify at least 432 remains and helped solve nearly 1,000 missing-persons cases since it was created in 2007.

The RCMP, meantime, said it does not know whether Canada's system, created in 2011, has helped link more than a single missing-person and unidentified-remains case. The federal police service does not keep track of confirmed matches.

"NAMUS actually is, I think, the best model for how to do it," said Kathy Gruspier, a forensic anthropologist with the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, which has the most unidentified remains in the country. "The National Institute of Justice [in the U.S.] said, 'We are going to do this and we're going to do this right.'"

There are unidentified American remains in Canada, and unidentified Canadian bodies and bones in the United States, but Canada's database software is not compatible with NAMUS, Mr. Matthews said. Connecting the two systems would also require government approval.

The U.S. system is funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. It has a staff of about 20 and is managed by the University of North Texas Health Science Center, where DNA profiling is done. Samples are then uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System, a software package run by the FBI.

The University of North Texas lab always attempts to get both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA – a level of consistency that Canada will lack, since the RCMP said it will be up to investigators to decide which types of DNA to submit to the data bank.

"In an ideal world, you want to have nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, but it just comes down to financial investment and logistical issues," said Dean Hildebrand, an associate dean at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. "It would be good to have it standardized. … More data in means more identifications out," added Dr. Hildebrand, who helped create B.C.'s provincial DNA databank and is a consultant for the B.C. Coroners Service.

Arthur Eisenberg, the director of the Texas lab, said it is a no-brainer – a must, even – to consistently populate the missing-persons and unidentified-remains data bank with nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Having both, he said, increases the chance of a match.

At Dr. Eisenberg's lab, all profiling of samples submitted by police agencies, coroners or medical examiners is paid for by Washington. Mr. Matthews believes this funding approach has been crucial to the U.S. model's success. It has prompted coroners to exhume unidentified remains to extract DNA and has encouraged cash-strapped police agencies to collect biological samples in more missing-persons cases.

"The money had to come federally, nationally, as opposed to regionally, because it can put a huge burden on a single agency that doesn't have enough money to get by already," Mr. Matthews said, noting DNA tests range between $500 and $2,000 (U.S.).

Tracking how many cases have been solved is also vital, he added. "We're having to prove that it's working," Mr. Matthews noted. "We have to measure our success to Congress, so that they understand that we're still needed."

In Canada, the RCMP-led system was created at the urging of police chiefs, families of missing persons and advocates for aboriginal women. The centre has 14 staff and an annual budget of $2-million – not far off the $2.25-million to $3.5-million (U.S.) that NAMUS has received annually since 2011, for a much more populous country.

But some of the NAMUS dollars help finance the Texas lab, and the lab has also received separate federal and state funding over the years. Dr. Eisenberg said the lab received $10-million (U.S.) over the past decade from the National Institute of Justice. That money was primarily for DNA testing.

In Canada, federal funding will not be available for DNA processing in missing-persons and unidentified remains cases, the RCMP revealed to The Globe. Police, coroners and medical examiners will be expected to pay for DNA profiling. The RCMP said police and death investigators will be encouraged to use as many DNA markers as required to assist in the identification of human remains. They also said the program will be consistent with international best practices.

A spokesman for Canada's Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the government will monitor the effectiveness of the missing-persons DNA data bank.

Along with NCMPUR's public website, the centre houses a bigger, non-public database of missing persons and unidentified remains. The database is fed by information from the Canadian Police Information Centre and analyzed for potential matches.

Inspector Carole Bird, who heads the Canadian system, said software-driven analysis of the database began last May. Matches of missing persons and remains are relayed to the investigating agency, which works to confirm or rule out the identification.

To date, automated analysis has produced a dozen potential matches, but it's unclear how many have led to confirmed identifications.

B.C. resident Barry Shpeley has been told his daughter's nearly eight-year-old missing-person case is in the database. Candace Shpeley's disappearance, however, is not featured on NCMPUR's website. Primary investigators, not the national centre, decide which cases of missing persons and unidentified remains to profile online.

Candace's exclusion has frustrated Mr. Shpeley and prompted him to start a petition. He believes it should be mandatory for police to post missing-persons reports on the system's website after an individual has not been seen or heard from for a week.

"When people go missing, there should be some way to know, not just locally, but nationally, because it doesn't take very long to go from one side of Canada to another," he said.

The U.S. has far more unidentified remains than Canada: an estimated 40,000 people are buried in unmarked graves or stored in the offices of coroners and medical examiners.

Juanita Adams was among the nameless for 31 years. She was about 21 when she left her South Dakota reserve in 1978. Police believe she may have hitched a ride with a trucker before she disappeared and was killed. Her skeletal remains were found in 1980 in the Georgia woods, near a former roadside rest stop, more than 2,000 kilometres from her home.

Her family had hoped she was still alive, her cousin Roxanne Two Bulls said. Finding her has given them some peace. She is home again, buried next to her mother and other family.

"She's okay now," Ms. Two Bulls said. "She's in good hands."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Kathy Gruspier is a forensic pathologist with Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner. In fact, she works with the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.