In the wake of its unprecedented report on murdered and missing aboriginal women, the RCMP has rolled out a revamped national missing persons policy, including a pair of investigative tools that provide a lens into how police approach disappearances.
The policy, which was circulated to commanding officers in September, introduces two standardized documents: a 13-question risk-assessment form and a 10-page missing-person intake report to help ensure certain information is obtained at the outset of an investigation.
The documents are part of the federal force's broader effort to address the problem of Canada's approximately 1,181 murdered and missing aboriginal women.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail shortly before the policy was finalized, RCMP Superintendent Tyler Bates said the forms would reinforce the "gravity" of missing-person cases and ensure every investigative angle is explored. Experts said they are generally supportive of the new forms, although concerns were raised about some of the specifics.
The detailed missing-person intake report could prove burdensome for officers who are already "stretched to the limit," said Inspector Mario Giardini, who heads the Vancouver Police Department's diversity and aboriginal policing section. He also expressed wariness over the fact that the risk-assessment form asks whether the person's behaviour is out of character.
"If it's out of character for the person [to go missing], does that heighten your response? Certainly it does," he said. "But my argument would be that if you answered 'No,' it shouldn't lower your response."
The risk-assessment form asks "Yes" or "No" questions such as, "Is this person involved in the sex trade, hitchhiking, gambling and/or transient lifestyle?" A supervisor must review all missing-persons investigations, the form says, but if the answer is "Yes" to any of the questions, the matter "requires immediate review and consultation with a supervisor to assess the appropriate response and resources."
Doug King, a Mount Royal University justice studies professor who worked as a Calgary Police Service research analyst, lauded the emphasis on engaging with a supervisor. "It demands a second pair of eyes, which is so important in these cases," he said.
The risk questionnaire doesn't ask if the missing person is native – an omission University of Ottawa criminology professor Ron Melchers supports. "Once you've taken other factors into consideration, it doesn't matter if the person is aboriginal or non-aboriginal," he said.
He noted that a hypothetical questionnaire for Tina Fontaine, the aboriginal teen recently murdered in Winnipeg, would have gleaned several "Yes" responses, including as a result of her age. It was also reportedly well-known that she was working in the sex trade.
The missing-person report, for its part, is comprehensive. Beyond basic questions around appearance and location last seen, it asks about outdoor skills, personality and religion. It also lists specific forensic and DNA items that could be utilized as part of the investigation, including X-rays and blood samples. If the person is a child, the report asks whether he or she is a repeat runaway. Insp. Giardini said that's important because the person's file might note where he or she was located in prior instances.
The document also includes a page dedicated to search results. That section, for example, asks if the investigator employed the use of dogs, boats or planes in the search effort. Supt. Bates, who heads the RCMP National Aboriginal Policing Services, told The Globe in September the form would "ensure that every investigational avenue that could be pursued, is pursued."