Ottawa

Push to punish 911 callers builds after latest Amber Alert

Some people are asking whether those who call 911 to complain about Amber Alerts should be fined or charged for tying up emergency lines unnecessarily.

Numerous callers dialed emergency number to complain

911 dispatchers received numerous calls Thursday from people complaining about receiving an Amber Alert message on their phones. (CBC)

It's happened again.

Numerous callers dialled 911 to complain after they got an Amber Alert on their phones in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The two little boys who were the subject of the frantic search were found safe with their grandfather in Toronto, but that hardly seemed to matter to people upset about being rudely awakened by the piercing alert notification.

You're compromising public safety.- OPP Staff Sgt. Stacey Whaley

Now some are asking whether those people should face fines or even charges for tying up emergency lines unnecessarily.

"Somebody calling because they're upset because they got woken up in the middle of the night isn't an emergency, so you're compromising public safety," said OPP Staff Sgt. Stacey Whaley.

People who do so are "immoral," Whaley said.

"The reason we're doing this is to pull out all stops to save the life of a child, and if someone is complaining because their sleep is compromised over that, it's hard to understand."

Calls from across province

Whaley couldn't say how many people called 911 to complain about Thursday's Amber Alert, but said calls came from "throughout the province."

He said he isn't aware of anyone facing consequences over Thursday's calls and said the OPP's main focus is on educating the public about why they shouldn't call 911 except in real emergencies.

Charging someone under the criminal code should only be used for those who are repeat or malicious offenders, said Michael Spratt, a criminal lawyer in Ottawa.

While he also hadn't heard of anyone facing charges for calling 911 to complain about Amber Alerts, Spratt did represent someone charged with continuously calling the emergency line to order pizza and beer.

He said some people who misuse 911 may have underlying mental health issues, and charging them criminally may not act as a deterrent.

The consequences for someone convicted, Spratt said, may also outweigh the costs of an operator having to deal with a false 911 call.

Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt says some people who call 911 with irrelevant concerns or complaints may have mental health issues. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Province considering 'all options'

The province said it's "considering all options to ensure people are not wasting critical emergency resources."

"When a child is missing, we all have a role to play as members of our community. Many children have been located as a direct result of Amber Alerts — but it only works if everyone receives these alerts. The bottom line is simple: a missing child is an emergency," solicitor general Sylvia Jones wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"Complaining about receiving an Amber Alert is more than just insensitive — it's dangerous. People who use 911 as a complaints hotline are taking up critical emergency resources."

5 Amber Alerts in Ontario in 2019

Thursday's Amber Alert was issued for two brothers, 2 and 4, last seen with their grandfather at a mall in Newmarket, Ont. They were located when a police officer spotted the man's vehicle in Toronto.

In May, a three-year-old boy was found safe after his mother had failed to return him to his grandmother in Sudbury. They were later found in Toronto.

In April, a five-year-old boy was reported missing from Mississauga, Ont., and was located in Chatham-Kent, approximately 270 kilometres away.

In March, a five-year-old girl was the subject of an Amber Alert after her father signed her out of her Markham, Ont., school. She was found safe in the same city.

There was no such happy outcome for 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar, who was found dead in her father's Brampton, Ont., home hours after the alert was issued.

Roopesh Rajkumar was charged with first-degree murder but the charge was withdrawn after he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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