Sarah Lockyer, who works for National Defence, stands at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Military seeks DNA experts to help ID missing war dead

Federal program recovers, identifies and arranges burials for Canada’s nearly 28,000 missing war dead

The Department of National Defence is seeking forensic DNA experts and funeral organizers to help its efforts to recover, identify and arrange burials for Canada’s nearly 28,000 missing war dead.

The prospective group of anthropologists, archaeologists and genealogists would help the department’s Casualty Identification Program analyze DNA from the remains of formerly missing Canadian servicemen discovered around the world.

The program has been identifying and organizing burials for Canada’s formerly missing war dead since 2007.

The Armed Force’s current contract with Toronto-based mortuary service provider MacKinnon and Bowes Ltd. is set to expire soon and two previous attempts to find new bidders have come up short.

Sarah Lockyer, the head of the identification program and a forensic anthropologist herself, hopes a contractor will come forward soon, as the small group she co-ordinates can’t do DNA testing and analysis on their own.

Since Lockyer took the program’s lead in 2015, the remains of 22 Canadian Armed Forces service members have been discovered, including one found earlier this month near the French city of Lens, fewer than ten kilometres north of Vimy Ridge. However, only four of the remains have been identified.

“Typically what happens is [the remains] are discovered because of modern farming activity or construction,” said Lockyer. “The vast majority of our cases are either from Belgium or France.”

Lockyer travels to France twice a year to inspect the remains, then returns with a sample – usually a piece of bone – for forensic analysis.

The bone is then sent to a lab while a genealogist searches for viable DNA donors to match with the bone’s. With the help of a historian who narrows down how many service members went missing or died in the area the remains were found, Lockyer then creates a shortlist of possible candidates.

The families of men on that list are then asked to provide a DNA sample for matching. If the match is successful, the program arranges a for a proper military funeral and tombstone.

“It’s all about returning their identity and returning their name to them,” said Lockyer. “Until now, they’re nameless. They’re faceless.

“To be able to do that and to give them a proper headstone with their name on it rather than an unknown Canadian is quite a privilege and an honour to be a part of,” she said.

Last year, the program identified the body of 22-year-old Manitoban Pte. Reginald Johnston, who died in August 1917 during the First World War near Lens, the same city where more remains were found this month.

Johnston was identified after his DNA was matched with a great niece, Lorraine Leniuk. His funeral was held in August at the Loos British Cemetary in Loos-en-Gohelle, France – 100 years after his death.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledged the importance of the program in an emailed statement.

“Canada is eternally grateful to the brave women and men who have given their lives in service to our country,” Sajjan said in the statement. “We hope that this effort to identify, locate and recover our fallen soldiers will bring solace to the families.”

Bidding on the new contract closes March 12.

Levi Garber, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Langley rower takes silver at Lucerne, Switzerland

Andrea Proske quit a good job to take up the sport at a relatively late age. It worked out.

14-year-old pilot attempts to break Guinness World Record at Langley airport

Mohd Shaikhsorab wants to become youngest pilot with fewest hours logged to fly solo

VIDEO: City of Langley orders road closed due to gas line break (updated)

Public asked to avoid area of 198 Street, between 55 and 56 Avenues

Lower Mainland cools down as heat wave lifts

Environment Canada predicts temperatures in the mid to low 20s

Educational videos for rodeo athletes address concussions, mental health

Ty Pozzobon Foundation, Canadian Pro Sports Medicine Team produce series

Stolen sunshade puts damper on Lower Mainland woman’s pet-relief effort

Broken umbrella taken from White Rock lawn ‘within 10 minutes’

Wildfires erupt in B.C. Okanagan forcing evacuation orders and a highway closure

Check out a list of up-to-date information on blazes happening within the Kamloops Wildfire Centre.

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Teen killed by train remembered for his love

Friends and family share stories of young Crescent Beach train victim

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

Island man convicted of 1999 sex assault at Fraser Valley music festival

James Allen Redden, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty of three charges

B.C. poet shines a bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo July 21.

Ontario police say attack on Muslim man was motivated by hate

Two men, aged 27 and 19, have been charged with assault in the incident

Most Read