Missing Persons and Abductions (4:IX)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 3, 2023.

According to the National Center for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR), British Columbia records the highest number of missing persons in the country, accounting for more than 40% of the countries 29,645 cases in 2020 .

NCMPUR categorizes probable cause for missing persons into the following categories:

  • Abduction by stranger
  • Accident
  • Wandered Off
  • Parental Abduction with Custody Order
  • Parental Abduction without Custody Order
  • Abducted by Relative
  • Runaway
  • Presumed Dead
  • Human Trafficking
  • Unknown

In British Columbia, there is no waiting period to report someone missing and anyone can make a report. Furthermore, you do not need to be a member of the missing persons immediately family to make a report. Before contacting police, you may want to reach out to family members, friends, loved ones and next of kin prior to filing a report. However, if these attempts at gaining information on an individual's whereabouts are unsuccessful, reporting to police is the best next step. You can expect the following from police when making a report :

  • Report will be taken seriously, and investigation started without delay.
  • Conducting a thorough investigation, including risk assessment, focused on the safety and wellbeing of the missing person
  • Offer information about supports or resources that may be available, designate a contact person within the police force to support ongoing communication, and keep you updated on the investigation, as appropriate
  • Consult with the family or reportee before releasing information or photographs of the missing person to the media, unless doing so would jeopardize the missing person or the investigation, for example by creating delays.
  • When a missing person has been found, attend the location in person to confirm their identity and wellbeing. To balance respect for privacy with police duty to investigate safety concerns, this may be handled differently in some circumstances.
  • Not close a file until the missing person has been located and their identity has been established.
  • Not share information about the location of a found missing adult without their permission. Police may also keep this information confidential in certain cases involving minors, depending on the circumstances.
  • Where appropriate, work with other agencies to promote a found missing person’s ongoing safety and limit recurring reports involving the same person, or to prevent others from going missing in similar circumstances.

A. Governing Legislation and Resources

1. Legislation

The Missing Persons Act (the Act) came into force June 9, 2015, setting out the provisions for accessing records that will help find missing persons, including special provisions for people who are vulnerable, youth and persons at risk.

The Act allows a member of a police force to apply to the court for records to help find a missing person. When there is a risk of serious harm to a missing person or a concern that records could be destroyed, the Act authorizes officers to make an Emergency Demand for Records without going through the court. Section 18 of the Act requires that a report on the use of Emergency Demands for Records must be submitted to the Minister or his or her designate on an annual basis and must be made public.

The Act defines a missing person as an individual whose whereabouts are unknown despite reasonable efforts to locate the individual and:

(a) who has not been in contact with those persons who would likely be in contact with the individual or;
(b) whose safety and welfare are feared for given:
(i) the individuals age
(ii) the individual’s physical or mental capabilities, or
(iii) the circumstance surrounding the individual's absence

2. Resources

a) The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR)

NCMPUR is Canada's national centre that provides law enforcement, medical examiners and chief coroners with specialized investigative services in support of missing persons and unidentified remains investigations.

One of the NCMPUR’s responsibilities is managing the national public website to provide information on selected cases to the public for the purposes of seeking tips on investigations.

The Canadasmissing.ca website features profiles of missing persons and unidentified remains that have been published at the request of the primary investigator from either police, coroner or medical examiner agency. Furthermore, resources are provided that instruct individuals on how to submit tips, specialized services, and fact sheets.

b) Travel Reunification Services

This is a program designed to assist a parent or a legal guardian who cannot afford to return the abducted child to or within Canada, once the child is located. In order to be eligible for travel assistance, the following guidelines must be met:

  1. The request for transportation must come from the investigating Police Agency or the Central Authority from the child's home province. The requesting agency is responsible for assessing the financial status of the family and determining if transportation should be provided. Assistance will be limited to child abduction situations, including situations where the child is abducted by parent or legal guardian.
  2. Assistance will be provided to transport:
    • In the case of older abducted children, home; and
    • In the case of younger children, enable the left behind parent or legal guardian to travel to the jurisdiction where the child is and return home.
  3. In some cases, it may be appropriate for a person other than the left behind parent or legal guardian to retrieve the child and accompany the child home.
  4. If the left behind parent is travelling to retrieve the child, the requesting authority must make every reasonable effort to confirm/ensure that the parent will be able to obtain legal physical custody of the child.
  5. The requesting agency must ensure that the parent or legal guardian has all the necessary documents in order to retrieve the child. Assistance will not be provided to transport the abductor, even if he or she is the person able to accompany the child home.

© Copyright 2023, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.