One of the surprise announcements in yesterday’s federal budget was $8.1 million over five years for a national DNA databank for missing persons. It’s an initiative that got some of its momentum in Hamilton.
Sometime after Billy Mason went missing in February 2006, his mother, Donna Dixon, was out looking and found some clothes floating at Bayfront Park. She thought they might be Billy’s, and had police come and collect them.
Months later, she learned police couldn’t do anything with those clothes.
“Finally one officer told me that there was no national DNA databank, they had nothing to take it to, and I needed to be more sure they were Billy’s, then they’d be sent to the U.S. to be tested.”
She and her family collected more than 6600 signatures on a petition calling for a missing persons DNA databank, and along with her MP, Wayne Marston (NDP Hamilton East-Stoney Creek), she brought the petition to Parliament Hill in 2008.
“That was my worst nightmare, day after day, minute after minute, not knowing. Was he dead, was he alive? Then hearing that they found bodies and still not knowing, is that my son in a morgue?”
“Not knowing almost drove me insane.”
For years nothing happened. Then on budget day, federal finance minister Jim Flaherty said: “We will create a DNA-based missing persons index, to help bring some peace to the families of missing persons.”
Marston says he was surprised and excited. “From time to time they find remains, and if you have a databank you can identify those folks fairly quickly. At least the family knows they found them.”
“Endless numbers have gone missing in the past 50 years and no one knows what happened to them. This will give closure, evidence for the police as well.”
Flaherty credits Judy Peterson for launching the fight for a databank, after her 14 year old daughter disappeared in B.C. in 1993. Donna Dixon knows now the databank wouldn’t have helped Billy, whose killer was convicted last March. But she says the fight was worthwhile.
“This is going to help so many families get the answers they have longed for.”
“There’s no excuse that we didn’t have one before now.”