Calgary police say a man found dead in the city’s northeast two years ago has been identified using the RCMP’s National Missing Persons DNA Program, marking the first time in Canada the program has been used to identify human remains.
The man was found inside a tent in a homeless encampment along the Nose Creek Pathway, south of 16 Avenue and west of Deerfoot Trail, on Oct. 4, 2017.
The medical examiner determined the death wasn’t suspicious and that the man had been in the tent between five and six months.
In a Tuesday release from the Calgary Police Service (CPS), officers explained that because of the length of time the man had been deceased, they were unable to identify him through traditional methods like fingerprinting.
According to police, the only items the man had on him were a heavily damaged cellphone and SIM card.
Police were able to recover some of the data stored on the phone, including an email chain, however they weren’t sure if the phone belonged to the deceased.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner sent a DNA sample to a private laboratory,” the CPS explained. “Due to the condition of the remains, three different samples were sent for analysis before a suitable DNA profile could be developed.”
The DNA profile was then sent to the National Missing Persons DNA Program, where a hit came back.
Police said the DNA hit matched a name found in the email chains on the phone, confirming it did belong to the deceased.
As a result, police were able to notify the man’s estranged family of his death and the circumstances around it.
“This was someone’s son, someone’s brother. Even though his death wasn’t criminal in nature, it was extremely important to the investigators that we identified him so that we could let his family know what happened to him,” Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta said.
The National Missing Persons DNA Program was established in 2018. Through the program, DNA profiles from missing persons and unidentified remains can be compared to approximately 500,000 DNA profiles.
The manager of the program, Kathy Murphy, said this case illustrates the value of the database.
“It can provide closure to families and link cases that span provinces and jurisdictions,” Murphy said. “The more profiles we get, the greater our chances of making an identification and bringing more people home.”