TORONTO – Toronto police say people upset about Amber Alert notifications on their cellphones should not call 911.
They say they received a number of complaints Tuesday about being awakened by an alert issued for a three-year-old boy.
Greater Sudbury police issued the alert at about 5 a.m. alleging the boy had been abducted by his mother and were possibly on a bus to Toronto on Monday.
The boy was found safe in Toronto at 8 a.m., and another alert went out to the public.
Toronto police say in a tweet that tying up the 911 lines could mean a slower response to an actual emergency.
Once again our Communications Centre has been receiving a number of calls from citizens using it as a platform to complain about being awaken by the Amber Alert.
9-1-1 is for EMERGENCIES ONLY. Please help us to keep our phone lines free for real emergencies. Thanks^adc
— Toronto Police OPS (@TPSOperations) May 14, 2019
Some people posted on Twitter that the Amber Alert system should be changed so it doesn’t wake people living far from where a child goes missing.
However, Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Maria St. Aubin was on the bus with the boy and his mother. She says the alert reminded her that she had seen them the previous day and it prompted her to call police with possibly relevant and important information.
“My phone number is a Timmins number. What if they had only done Sudbury and Toronto area? I wouldn’t have gotten it,” she said. “Really anyone can go anywhere – you take a bus, you take a train. I think that’s just important to know.”
WATCH: When and when NOT to call 911
To those complaining about the alert, St. Aubin says the importance of the matter outweighs the inconvenience of the alert.
“It’s an alert. Just look at it – if it has nothing to do with you, go back to sleep,” she says. “If that was your family member I think you’d want everybody to know. We’re rallying together to help find people and make sure everybody’s safe.”
When asked about the people who called 911 to complain about the alert, Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones sent them a direct message.
“If I could speak to those individuals who called 911 — you’re actually making it more challenging for us to find these missing children. You’re making it more challenging for the police officers to do their job. Please do not call 911 unless you know it is an emergency,” she said.
Officers across Canada have issued this plea before
This isn’t the first time police in Toronto, or Canada for that matter, have issued a plea to not call 911 to complain about emergency alerts.
One of the first uses of Canada’s new emergency alert system happened in February when an Amber Alert was issued for 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar when she failed to return from a birthday celebration with her father.
It was less than an hour later that the girl’s body was found in her father’s Brampton home.
Roopesh Rajkumar was later charged with first-degree murder, but died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered before he was arrested in Orillia.
Despite officers saying the Amber Alert led directly to the arrest of Roopesh, local police said they received several calls about being woken up by the alert while others were angry that they had received the alert on their phone.
Both the York Regional Police and Toronto Police also reported people calling 911 to complain. One resident reportedly told a call taker that the alert was “an invasion of my privacy,” while another said, “We are trying to watch the Leafs game.”
Similar situations played out in Alberta and again in the Toronto area in mid-March.
Edmonton police issued an Amber Alert for a missing eight-year-old boy at 9:45 p.m. on that Friday night. The child was said to be in “imminent danger.” A follow-up alert with new information was sent at 11:38 p.m.
It didn’t take long for people on social media to complain about how late in the evening the alerts were sent out.
“I get it sucks but it’s a nuisance to the public as everyone gets notified,” read one tweet.
Another read, “I hope they fine-tune this system more. People hundreds of kilometres away from the Amber Alert area being woken up by a loud alarm in the middle of the night is ridiculous.”
“Lay of the stupid alerts at 23:30 morons.”
Edmonton police recommended people unhappy with receiving alerts either power down their phones at night or contact their phone carriers to potentially opt out of the emergency alert system.
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