Bill to improve 911 service in Ontario up for debate

A bill that would change 911 service in Ontario is up for debate at Queen’s Park.

Bill 75 put forward by NDP MPP France Gélinas

A bill that would make changes to Ontario's 911 system is being debated at Queen's Park. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

A bill that would change 911 service in Ontario is up for debate at Queen's Park.

France Gélinas, the NDP health critic and MPP for Nickel Belt put Bill 75, called 911 Everywhere in Ontario, forward.

"We have an opportunity to save lives," Gélinas said.

"Not one more person in Ontario should die because they do not have access to 911. In many parts of the province, when you call 911 you are met with a not-in-service message. This has had fatal consequences."

Gélinas says the bill contains three parts. The first would do away for 1-800 numbers offered in rural areas of Ontario instead of the 911 service. Gélinas says the goal is for everyone in Ontario to have access to 911.

The second portion of the bill would implement the Ontario Chief Coroner's recommendations to improve the 911 system. The final part of the bill would allow the Ombudsman to investigate complaints involving 911.

Coroner's inquest

Last fall, a joint coroner's inquest was held in Sudbury and Ottawa looking into the province's 911 system.

The inquest looked into the deaths surrounding two fatal events — a 2013 boating tragedy in Sudbury and the death of a woman in Casselman in 2014.

Six years ago, a boat crashed into a small island on Lake Wanapitei in Greater Sudbury. Matthew Humeniuk, 33, and Michael Kritz, 34, both died at the scene. Stephanie Bertrand, 25, died a week later.

Stephanie Bertrand, Matthew Humeniuk and Michael Kritz died after the boat they were in crashed into an island on Lake Wanapitei in 2013. (Supplied)

The sole survivor, Rob Dorzek, testified at the inquest he repeatedly phoned 911 for help but kept getting disconnected. He also said he was told to start a signal fire so emergency crews could find him. That fire spread to the boat where Humeniuk and Kritz lay injured.

In 2014, Kathryn Missen, 54, called 911 while suffering a severe asthma attack at her home in Casselman. She was found dead two days later after neighbours became concerned.

Kathryn Missen died in 2014 after her call to 911 for help was bungled by overlaps and delays in getting emergency responders to her home in Casselman. (Missen family )

The coroner made a number of suggestions to improve the 911 system, including creating an independent body to provide oversight and that all three emergency services taking emergency calls do so with the same computer system.

'Getting the help they need'

The vice-president of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, Mark Train, says his group supports the bill. He says he encourages all MPPs to vote in support.

"Having been part of many inquests in Ontario, we see that single the most important thing in anyone's emergency is to have a first responder on scene as quick as possible," he said.

"The ability to dial 911 and get quick service, the ability to have technological interfaces between systems that enhance that and that allow it happen in a timely manner are all things that will benefit that and lead to an end result of people getting the help they need."

The families of the victims also support the bill.

"We are very hopeful that this proposed legislation does not get lost in the shuffle of partisan politics and that all parties recognize its importance and value in ensuring the safety of all people living in Ontario," Toni Krtiz-Roque, sister of Michael Kritz said.

"By supporting this bill, we can take action on the Coroner's recommendations to improve our 911 system so that these tragedies are not in vain," Gélinas said.

"This law will also help people regain confidence in this critical service."


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