Silver Alert system a step closer to helping find missing Manitoba seniors

A new system that would help police officers work with media outlets to find missing adults is one step closer to coming into effect in Manitoba.

Manitoba program modelled after Amber Alert would help track down adults with cognitive impairments

A bill before the Manitoba Legislature would establish a program similar to an Amber Alert to help locate missing adults with cognitive impairments. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A new system that would help police officers work with media outlets to find missing adults is one step closer to coming into effect in Manitoba.

The Missing Persons Amendment Act (Silver Alert) passed third reading Wednesday in Manitoba's legislature. It still requires royal assent before becoming law.

"I have always thought that we should have something that helps folks when they're out of their home or even out of a long-term care facility when they go missing," said Progressive Conservative MLA Len Isleifson (Brandon East), who introduced Bill 214 in March.

Before entering politics, Isleifson was the head of security for the Prairie Mountain Health region. He said his 21 years working in hospitals gave him insight into gaps in the current system when patients and other vulnerable adults go missing.

Like the Amber Alert system for missing children at risk, a Silver Alert would interrupt television and radio broadcasts with information about the missing person. Amber Alerts can also appear on websites and social media.

"It's a matter of taking that [Amber Alert] program and converting or copying the majority of it," Isleifson said.

Police forces in Manitoba would have the ultimate say on whether a Silver Alert would be issued, Isleifson said, but it's likely the alerts would only be used for people with advanced forms of cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, autism or Asperger's syndrome — "disorders that would cause disorientation that may place somebody at risk if they happen to go wandering," Isleifson said.

"They have to be considered at risk. It's not going to be someone who just went out to the store for the day."

Under the bill, a Silver Alert would include personal information about the missing person, including their name, a physical description, a photograph and information about medical conditions. Vehicle information, the location where the person was last seen and the circumstances of the disappearance would also be released.

"The information [to be released] is limited to the minimum amount necessary," the bill says.

In the U.S., Silver Alert systems exist in more than 30 states, said Isleifson, but the bill would be the first of its kind in Canada. In British Columbia, a citizen-led organization sends out information about missing seniors but there is no government program.

Over the coming decades, Manitoba, like many other jurisdictions across Canada, is likely to see an increase in the number of vulnerable adults declared missing.

As Manitoba's population ages, the number of people living with dementia is expected to double by 2038, the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba says.

with files from Erin Brohman