About Saint Mary's

Saint Mary’s alumna achieves honour in the RCMP

5 July, 2016

SMU alumna Meaghan Huculak

A typical day for Forensic Identification Assistant (FIA), Meaghan Huculak, could involve examining fingerprints on stolen cars, searching for evidence after robberies or attending crime scenes.

Now, that list of activities could include offering her expert opinion in court.  

After four years working for the RCMP in British Columbia, the Saint Mary’s alumna has just completed training to become the first Forensic Identification Assistant certified as a Fingerprint Examiner in RCMP history. She can now be called as an expert witness. 

Unlike most civilian FIAs, who would typically do the preliminary work of photographing, documenting and preserving a crime scene before handing over the files to a trained RCMP officer, Huculak can now follow her files through to completion and defend her work in court. 

“We are a piece of the puzzle,” says Huculak. 

Huculak has a BSc from the University of Toronto with a specialist in Physical Anthropology and a Major in Forensic Science. She earned her Masters in Applied Science at Saint Mary’s University specializing in Forensic Anthropology, and took the Forensic Identification Course at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa. 

Following a two-month course, students face more than a year of reading, research experiments and training sessions and finally a gruelling full-day final examination. 

Huculak explained that during the exam, she had to hold her own during a mock trial, defending her fingerprint identification to three senior Forensic Identification Specialists.

Despite advances in technology, fingerprint matches are still manually verified, explained Huculak. It’s not the flashy instant match that you might see on a crime drama, but is a slow, methodical process. In one case, she had to sort out which of the 19 prints on a car, if any, were associated in a property theft crime.

“The co-op experience gained through Saint Mary's allowed Meaghan to gain hands-on experience for her current job,” said Dr. Tanya Peckmann, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Saint Mary’s and Forensic Anthropology consultant to the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service. 

“She regularly uses the skills she learned while attending crime scenes for her day to day tasks in her FIA RCMP role,” said Peckmann, adding that the collaboration skills Huculak learned in her research also complement her FIA role in the RCMP. “She must regularly frame information from her investigations within the cultural context familiar to peoples of diverse backgrounds.”

While there are relatively few positions like hers in the RCMP, this is a field that is seeing some expansion, says Huculak. It starts with a degree in criminology, forensic science or a related field, and she highly recommends getting hands-on training to get a sense of the day-to-day work you’ll face in the field.