TORONTO — A Toronto woman is calling on the Ontario government to levee fines against people who call emergency dispatchers to complain about broadcasts of Amber Alerts.
Dalia Monacelli says she’s been appalled to read about repeated calls to 911 in the wake of the federally mandated emergency broadcasts, which go out to wireless devices across the province every time police issue an alert concerning a missing child believed to be in imminent danger.
On all five occasions that Amber Alerts have been issued in Ontario this year, police forces have had to plead with the public to stop flooding 911 operators with complaints about the broadcasts, some of which take place in the middle of the night.
Monacelli says she was upset to see such pleas persisting even after the first Amber Alert of the year culminated in the death of 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar, who police say was killed by her father.
Monacelli launched an online petition asking Premier Doug Ford and Attorney General Doug Downey to consider instituting fines for those who tie up 911 resources to complain about the emergency broadcasts.
She says she’s heartened by the fact that the petition has received more than 58,000 signatories so far, but still believes those griping about Amber Alerts need to pay a literal price.
“If people can be really that selfish to call to complain about a service that saves children’s lives, and also to occupy the 911 line for this kind of thing, then they do deserve to be fined,” the 27-year-old said in a telephone interview.
Monacelli said she was stunned to hear about the pervasive complaints in the hours after Rajkumar was first declared missing in February.
Peel Regional Police issued the alert hours after the girl failed to return home from a visit with her father, who was taking her out to celebrate her birthday.
After the emergency broadcast sounded on cellphones across the province shortly before midnight, dispatchers found themselves fielding floods of calls.
Police said one of those directly led police to the spot where they ultimately arrested her father, who died in hospital days after being taken into custody, but many more were complaining about being awakened by the alert.
Similar complaints poured in in May when a three-year-old boy went missing from Sudbury, Ont.
Social media posts from people located further afield griped about being disturbed for a case believed to be unfolding in a completely unrelated province. When the boy was found unharmed about 400 kilometres away in Toronto, however, many experts affirmed the effectiveness of Amber Alerts and the national AlertReady system that allows them to be broadcast across a wide geographical area.
Amber Alerts have successfully helped locate Ontario children three additional times this year, most recently when two young boys were located in the company of their grandfather earlier this month.
Monacelli said her unwavering support of widespread Amber Alert broadcasts comes in part from her experience as the mother of a three-year-old boy.
“If anything like that were ever to happen to my son, knock on wood, I want the whole world to move and do whatever they can to find him,” she said.
She said fines are necessary to dissuade people not only from complaining about a valuable service, but from monopolizing emergency resources that may be more urgently needed.
Her sentiments were echoed by Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who said the government is “considering all options” to ensure people are not misusing 911.
“When a child is missing, we all have a role to play as members of our community,” Jones said in a statement Monday. “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.”
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press