Yukon's 911 system inadequate for those hard of hearing, speech impaired, says resident

Gerard Tremblay says he has been asking the Yukon government for a text option to the territory's 911 service since it first rolled out in 2016. He says the current service is inadequate for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or are speech impaired.

'Having 911 accessible to us would be huge,' says Gerard Tremblay

Gerard Tremblay says he has been asking the Yukon government to include a text option to 911 services for years.

It's been seven years since basic 911 was introduced in the Yukon, but some residents are still unable to effectively use the service.

Gerard Tremblay, a Whitehorse resident who is hard of hearing, is unable to speak out loud. CBC News interviewed Tremblay through a sign language interpreter.

He said he has repeatedly requested that the Yukon government offer a text option for contacting 911.

"When they first started talking about setting up 911 here I said 'please set up the text,'" Tremblay explained. "We've had 911 for a long time now. I contacted them before they even set up 911 to do this. They didn't."

Tremblay said he once had a "close call" accident a few years ago in which his truck rolled over. He said help could have been expedited if he had the ability to text for help.

"The person who could hear was unconscious and I couldn't contact 911. A school bus eventually came along and saw us," Tremblay explained.

"I couldn't communicate with them because I'm deaf. A bunch of people that could hear were discussing what was going on and finally someone called 911. If nobody had come along, I don't know what I would have done."

Outdated technology

Many deaf and hard of hearing callers must still use a TTY or tele-typewriter device or a telecommunications device to contact 911.

Tremblay simply says it doesn't work.

"It's an old system," he explained.

"It's like 50 years old. To be honest, I threw my TTY out. It, in general, takes a really long time. It's a huge machine. It goes to Toronto to a relay operator and then they have to contact the person who I'm calling. 911 is for emergency situations, so do you have the time to waste on that?"

Tremblay also says the TTY is only compatible with a landline.

Bell offers a relay service for 911 calls but Tremblay says it only works with an internet connection. 

A file image. Tremblay said he had a 'close call' accident in which his truck rolled over. He said help could of been expedited if he had the ability to text for help. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

Basic to next generation

Kathryn Hallett, a spokesperson from Yukon government's Community Services Department said the government is working closely with the CRTC and service providers to implement Next Generation 9-1-1 services.

"The CRTC has directed service providers, like Northwestel and Bell, to transition to Next Gen 9-1-1 and have established timelines associated with that transition," said Hallett.

The timeline set by the CRTC is March 1. By then all telecommunication providers must update their networks to get ready for Next Gen 9-1-1. However a deadline for providing real time text messaging services to the general public has not been set.

Hallett also said the territory's service provider, Northwestel, provides the telephone lines, equipment, and networks for 911 in the Yukon. Hallett says the 911 network needs to be updated before the transition to Next Gen 9-1-1 can take place.

"The government actually doesn't have any regulatory role in telecommunication," she said."Where we come in as the government of Yukon is to ensure that our emergency call centres are equipped and ready for the new service once the service providers are ready to implement."

According to Hallett, most jurisdictions in Canada with the exception of the three territories and Newfoundland and Labrador are currently using something called 'enhanced 9-1-1.'

"What that does is provide a simpler transition to Next Gen 9-1-1," she explained. "Some of the services under Next Generation 9-1-1 they're starting to try out under this enhanced 9-1-1.

Hallett says she is not aware of any jurisdictions that have fully made the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1, but she does know of a few larger centres that have implemented text to 9-1-1 through private providers.

Tremblay says he hopes the service can be made available to the public sooner than later.

"I want them to set up 911 service with text. That's it," he said. "Having 911 accessible to us would be huge."