Ontario's Amber Alerts go digital
May 26, 2006. 08:28 PM
FROM CANADIAN PRESS
The electronic system that lets police instantly notify Ontario residents about missing children can now send Amber Alerts via email to registered cellphones and BlackBerrys, the Ontario government announced Friday.
Those with email or text-messaging devices can easily sign up for the new service, thereby broadening the reach of the system, Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter told a news conference.
“Think about how many more people will be on the lookout for abducted children across the entire province with this expansion,” Kwinter said.
“This is a tremendous expansion of the Amber Alert capability.”
There have been 11 alerts in Ontario since the province introduced the program in January 2003 on highway signs and in the electronic media, Kwinter said. Lottery terminal kiosks were added as alert destinations in April 2005.
Of those, three of the missing children were found dead, while seven were found alive and one remains missing, Kwinter said.
The expansion is a joint effort between the Ontario government, provincial police and Bell Canada. Ontario residents can register for the program on Bell’s website at www.bell.ca/amberalert.
“Because of the increased use of cellphone and text messaging, it’s a really good way to reach people,” said Ashley Dent, a spokeswoman for Kwinter.
Bell Canada spokesman Paolo Pasquini said the cellphone service is free of charge for all Bell Mobility customers and available for a fee to customers of other cellphone providers. Regular e-mail users can sign up for free.
Dent said she hopes other cellphone providers will soon jump on board. Pasquini expects the service to expand into other provinces with time.
“It’s had a very good first-day response and we’re hoping that we have a lot of people that have been motivated to go register and to take part in this matter,” said Pasquini.
“I just hope we never have to use it.”
The program caused a minor controversy in April when two boys were reported missing and an Amber Alert was issued. Police soon found the boys with their father near Temagami in northern Ontario, but couldn’t cancel the alert because they didn’t have the children in custody.
Conflicting reports went out to the media as a consequence, but OPP deputy commissioner John Carson said it proved to be a learning experience that had no serious repercussions.
“It’s just one of those things . . .just some confusion amongst the broadcasters and distribution of the information,” he said.
“At the end of the day the successful outcome, that’s what’s really important here.”
Kwinter said the Amber Alert system could also be used for mass communication in the event of a pandemic, like an avian flu outbreak.
The Amber Alert system was born in the United States and named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Texas in 1996.