Toronto Amber Alert case a reminder that the system works

A happy ending to the story of a three-month-old Toronto baby who was taken during an apparent car theft is a reminder that Canada's Amber Alert system for finding missing children does work, despite occasional complaints.

Alert system has helped children return home safely

Amber Alerts are used in the U.S. and Canada to help disseminate information about missing children. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

A happy ending to the story of a three-month-old Toronto baby who was taken during an apparent car theft is a reminder that Canada's Amber Alert system for finding missing children does work.

The baby had been left alone in the back seat of a running car while his father went into a store. The stolen car, with the baby still inside, was later found abandoned in a parking lot by an employee of a nearby Holiday Inn.

Toronto police say the employee called them after seeing the Amber Alert broadcast on television and noticing that a car in the parking lot matched the vehicle description in the alert.

"We are crediting [the] Amber Alert system plus this specific guy's action," says Toronto police spokesman Const. Victor Kwong.

And yet Kwong says the police received complaints, both by phone and on social media, from TV watchers who were upset that their programs had been interrupted by an Amber Alert. Kwong says police didn't make note of how many complaints they received — but it's something that's happened before.

"The fact that they saw [the Amber Alert] means the system worked," says Kwong.

'A beautiful tool' — if the public uses it

Amber Alerts are "a beautiful tool" for finding missing children, according to Christy Dzikowicz, director of missing children services with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

"It's a well-branded trigger, where people hear 'Amber Alert' and they know it's serious," says Dzikowicz.

Still, Amber Alerts are only as useful as the public makes them. Dzikowicz says members of the public need to pay attention to the specific details included in an Amber Alert broadcast and pass along relevant information onto police.
Amber Alerts were named after Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped from her Texas home and killed in 1996. (R. Jeena Jacob/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Associated Press)

"As members of the public we don't have to weed out a good tip or a bad tip, we just need to call it in if we hear it," says Dzikowicz.

Broadcasting Amber Alerts and other emergency messages became mandatory for TV and radio broadcasters on March 31, 2015. In the last 12 months, there have only been two Amber Alert events broadcast, according to Paul Temple, a senior vice-president at Pelmorex, which prepares and distributes those alerts for broadcasters via a protocol called the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination System.

Here are three other cases in which an Amber Alert helped a Canadian child get home safely.

Abducted baby recovered

After newborn baby Victoria Boisclair was abducted from a hospital in Trois-Rivières, Que., by a woman posing as a nurse in May 2014, an Amber Alert with a description of the suspect and her car was quickly circulated.
Victoria Boisclair was abducted from a Quebec hospital as a newborn, but returned safely to her parents after an Amber Alert was issued. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The description made its way onto Facebook, where a young woman recognized the suspect as a former neighbour. She and her friends called police, who quickly recovered the baby and arrested the suspect.

Since then, Facebook has created its own system to broadcast Amber Alerts to users in a specific area.

Missing 8-year-old boy found safe

Another 2014 Amber Alert helped return an Ontario boy to his custodial parent.

After a visit with his mother, an eight-year-old boy from Ontario's Peel Region wasn't returned home to his father. Police said the mother refused to return the child, after which they issued an Amber Alert with a description of the mother, the boy, and the mother's licence plate.

A witness who had seen the Amber Alert saw the mother's car,  followed it, and then called the authorities. Peel police pulled the car over and recovered the child safely.

Mom responds to Amber Alert about herself

In late 2015, an Alberta mother called police after hearing about an Amber Alert that was issued for her and her three children.

Police said the mother disappeared overnight, taking her three children with her from their home in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. The woman's husband called police after waking up to find his family gone, leading the RCMP to issue an Amber Alert.

Meanwhile, the woman had taken her children to Calgary, where police said they were located "safe and sound" after the mother called police herself. No charges were laid.


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