Over the last nine years, the Pacific Northwest coastline was the site of a disturbing, unexplained phenomenon. Seventeen human feet washed up on the shores of BC and Washington State—without a body attached. The story received global media attention, with theories about the origin of the disembodied feet ranging from active serial killer to gang activity.
This mystery was solved with help from the BCIT Forensic DNA Laboratory. Using advanced forensic profiling technology, the lab was able to generate DNA profiles for each of the human feet recovered. The BC Coroner Service then used that information to determine that the feet came from victims of marine accidents and suicide. By aiding in these types of investigations, the lab’s work helps make it easier for friends and family members of missing persons to get closure.
The lab has helped solved a significant number of challenging forensic cases since it first opened in 1999. “Our lab has served as an important resource for the BC Coroners office,” says lab founder Dr. Dean Hildebrand. “We’re proud of our humanitarian and investigative work.” Areas of expertise at the lab include working with degraded biological samples and conducting nuclear DNA typing.
The lab recently earned forensic lab accreditation from the Standards Council of Canada—the same level of accreditation held by the RCMP’s Forensic DNA lab. BCIT is the only academic institute in Canada to hold this distinction. Reaching this milestone was an important step for the lab, adding credibility to the team’s DNA-based investigative work and ensuring their findings hold up to scrutiny when used as evidence in court. According to Chantal Guay, vice president of the Standards Council of Canada, “accredited forensic test results are trusted by government and industry regulators and by the courts.”
The lab’s forensic DNA experts are also BCIT faculty members, training the next generation of forensic scientists. “The immediate benefits of our lab’s work in the community are obvious,” says Dr. Hildebrand. “But there is an added benefit for our students—our faculty bring their lab experience into the classroom, creating relevant applied learning opportunities based on state-of-practice technologies and methods.”
For more information about the BCIT Forensic DNA Laboratory, please contact Dr. Dean Hildebrand: firstname.lastname@example.org.