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Quebec to launch 'Silver Alert' pilot project to locate missing seniors

The program, known as Silver Alert, is similar to an Amber Alert and sends out a bulletin of essential information when a senior with neurocognitive difficulties goes missing.

Like an Amber Alert, information would be shared directly with population

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) estimated that 800 missing seniors cases would meet the criteria for a Silver Alert every year, for an average of 15 a week. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Twenty years after the Amber Alert system was introduced in Quebec, the province is expected to announce a similar program for missing seniors, Radio-Canada has learned.

The program, known as Silver Alert, sends out a bulletin of essential information when a senior with neurocognitive difficulties, like Alzheimer's disease, goes missing.

Like with an Amber Alert — which is triggered when a child is missing and believed to be abducted — the Silver Alert would enable the population to be on the lookout for the missing person. Similar programs already exist in Manitoba, Alberta and several U.S. states.

According to sources speaking to Radio-Canada, three Silver Alert pilot projects will be launched in the province. The government is expected to make the announcement by mid-June.

Police services in the province haven't always been on board with the idea. A 2017 document obtained by Radio-Canada suggests that Quebec's provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), was against the idea at the time.

In the explanatory note, the SQ estimated that 800 missing seniors cases would meet the criteria for a Silver Alert every year, for an average of 15 a week.

"Recurrent broadcasts of Silver Alerts could desensitize the population to this type of event, thus reducing the effectiveness of the Amber Alert," the document read.

It also raised concerns that the Silver Alert would "create confusion within the population and thus distort the initial mission of the Amber Alert, which is to exceptionally hold the attention of the public" to find an abducted child.

Marcel Savard, a former deputy director of the SQ, said that's why clear guidelines for triggering a Silver Alert are essential.

"We don't want to overwhelm the population. Are we going to cry wolf and, in the end, have no one pay attention to these alerts?" he asked.

When to trigger an alert, who has the authorization to do so, and how large an area should be notified are all important details, he said. 

But with an aging population, including a growing number of people living with dementia, Savard said this kind of measure will be an "additional tool" for police forces moving forward.

Based on reporting by Radio-Canada's Alexandre Duval

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