The utilisation of genetic genealogy in law enforcement has marked a significant shift in how cold cases are approached and solved. This innovative method combines DNA analysis with ancestry databases to uncover familial connections that were previously untraceable, offering new leads in cases that have remained unsolved for years or even decades.

The Toronto Police Service stands as a prime example of the successful application of genetic genealogy, having resolved 21 cases in the past two years thanks to a provincial grant. This achievement not only demonstrates the method’s potential to provide closure to long-standing mysteries but also highlights the importance of financial and technological resources in modern policing.

Among the notable cases solved is the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop. Toronto police partnered with a private lab to build a suspect profile from preserved DNA, which, when uploaded to an ancestry database, led to the creation of a family tree pointing to Calvin Hoover, who had passed away in 2015. This case underscores the method’s ability to bring resolution years after traditional investigative avenues have been exhausted.

Despite these successes, the Montreal Police Department (SPVM) has faced challenges in achieving similar breakthroughs, drawing attention to discrepancies in resource allocation and technological adoption among law enforcement agencies. The SPVM’s cold case unit, established in 2019, has yet to publicly announce major advancements using genetic genealogy, in contrast to the achievements of its counterparts in other regions.

The disparity in the application of genetic genealogy across jurisdictions underscores the necessity for equitable funding and access to specialized expertise. The Toronto Police Service’s ability to solve numerous cold cases was significantly bolstered by a $1.5 million grant from Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General, which covered the costs of genetic testing and allowed for the hiring of genealogists. Such funding is not currently available in Quebec, where the SPVM and other agencies operate, highlighting a gap in resources that could facilitate the wider use of this technology.

In addition to solving the murder of Christine Jessop, the Toronto Police Service has utilised the grant to address a range of historical homicides, sexual assaults, and cases involving unidentified human remains. Each case solved represents not only a triumph of science and detective work but also brings long-awaited answers to families who have waited years for closure.

Privacy concerns associated with genetic genealogy have been addressed by experts who emphasise the consent-based model of ancestry databases. Individuals who submit their DNA to these databases have control over their genetic information, allowing for its use in law enforcement investigations under specific, consented conditions. This model ensures that the technology is used responsibly, balancing the needs of law enforcement with respect for individual privacy.

As genetic genealogy continues to evolve, its potential to revolutionise cold case investigations is undeniable. The success stories from Toronto and other jurisdictions serve as a call to action for a unified approach to funding and resource allocation, ensuring that all Canadian law enforcement agencies can benefit from this powerful investigative tool. The ultimate goal is to extend the reach of justice, providing answers and resolution to the countless families affected by unsolved crimes.

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  • Photo by Anne Nygård: instant images