Forensic science is changing and is creating increased challenges and opportunities for Canadian forensic laboratories. Accreditation by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) for forensic laboratories is also evolving, to ensure these laboratories keep pace with, and reap the benefits from, industry sector changes.
According to Chantal Guay, SCC’s vice-president, Accreditation Services, "SCC accreditation provides assurance that a forensic laboratory has adhered to recognized practices and standards. Our accreditation is very important for obtaining confidence in forensic laboratories’ test results.”
She adds that major forensic laboratories in Canada are all accredited, given the courts’ expectations in this regard.
Introduced in 2000, SCC accreditation is offered in several forensic disciplines: counterfeits, firearms and tool marks, explosives, biology/DNA analysis, chemistry/trace analysis, drug chemistry, equine drug testing, toxicology and questioned documents examination.
Accreditation procedures are based on internationally recognized standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Forensic laboratories must meet the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025 - General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.
In general, Canadian organizations seeking accreditation must also meet the requirements of Canadian Procedural Document CAN-P-1578 - Guidelines for the Accreditation of Forensic Testing Laboratories. CAN-P-1570 - Program for the Accreditation of Laboratories – Canada (PALCAN), PALCAN Handbook describes the accreditation process for all types of laboratories.
RCMP, a key SCC customer
One example of a customer that has benefited from SCC accreditation is Forensic Science and Identification Services (FS&IS) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. FS&IS is a vital part of the RCMP’s National Police Services, delivering quality investigative support services for front-line policing, both within Canada and internationally.
FS&IS comprises a single laboratory system with multiple sites located across Canada that vary in size and forensic service specialization. SCC accredits these as a whole (corporate accreditation), auditing the RCMP’s quality system only once during each auditing phase – rather than each individual laboratory. By doing so, SCC is ensuring that the RCMP has a strong, centralized quality system in place for all of its laboratories.
“SCC assessments of our laboratories are now completed within six to eight weeks, every two years – rather than being scattered over the two-year cycle,” says RCMP Civilian Member Wayne Greenlay (retired), former manager, National Quality Assurance and Health and Safety, FS&IS. “This improved approach to assessing quality is more efficient for both SCC and the RCMP.”
Impact of technology and legislation changes
Forensic science is a dynamic area with a diverse range of specializations and disciplines in constant evolution that impacts the work of the RCMP’s laboratories and Canadian forensic laboratories in general, according to Greenlay. Greenlay is now chair of the Accreditation Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.
“Many technology advances, most notably in forensic DNA analysis – whether an expanded menu of different types of DNA analysis or new DNA kits or instrumentation – have substantially increased the capabilities of forensic laboratories in recent times,” he says.
Greenlay adds that Canadian legislation changes, in areas such as DNA analysis and impaired driving (related to both alcohol and drug use), have increased or changed the number and types of cases being submitted to forensic laboratories.
Accreditation ensures a strong quality system
By ensuring the RCMP has a strong quality system in place, SCC accreditation for forensic laboratories has been helping the RCMP’s laboratories meet these emerging changes and opportunities.
“A strong quality system helps us maintain consistency and continuous improvement in our laboratory work,” says Greenlay. “As a result, we gain the confidence of laboratory personnel, investigators and the courts, in the laboratory’s key product – the forensic report.”
“Having a quality system in place provides a basis for fewer repeats, due to errors, of laboratory test results,” says Guay. “As well, a quality system ensures streamlined work processes, clear procedures and accountabilities for performing a variety of procedures.”
A proxy for trust
Guay adds that SCC accreditation is also a proxy for trust. “Accredited forensic test results are trusted by government and industry regulators, by the courts, and by the public,” she says. “Using the ISO standard ensures global acceptance of tests.”
SCC is a proud collaborator for the 2014 Canadian Society of Forensic Science Conference. Chantal Guay will speak at the conference, which takes place May 5-9 in Gatineau, Quebec. Learn more about SCC accreditation for forensic laboratories, or contact SCC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted, with permission, from an SCC article appearing in January/February 2014 issue of LAB Business magazine.