Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 15/3/2018 (880 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba smartphone users will soon start receiving emergency text messages warning of life-threatening situations, including when a child has been abducted.
Wireless service providers began issuing notices Tuesday to customers, advising them of the Alert Ready system that will deliver, in cases of emergency, alerts from government, via text message.
The system will include Amber Alerts, said Greg Burch, spokesman for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.
Last April, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission directed the nation’s wireless service providers to implement a public alerting capability on their LTE networks. Since that time, they have been working with federal, provincial and territorial governments to develop a system that would share public alerts over wireless networks, Burch said Wednesday.
Once that system kicks in on April 6, it could save lives, advocates for missing children said.
"I think it is a big deal," said Christy Dzikowicz of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg. "Having a notification that’s reaching people is very critical. It’s absolutely important to have more eyes and ears (on the lookout) and to be communicating to the public how important it is that they act."
An Amber Alert — officially America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, but named after 1996 Texas abduction and homicide victim Amber Hagerman, 9 — that is automatically sent to every smartphone in the area means more people will be on the lookout, Dzikowicz said.
She said she’s talked to the parents of missing children about the advances in communications technology that might have made a difference in their cases. "I’ve had conversations with Crystal Dunahee, Michael’s mom," said the centre’s director of child safety and family advocacy.
Four-year-old Michael Dunahee vanished from a playground in Victoria in 1991. Even though Victoria is on an island, and his disappearance was reported right away, Michael has not been found.
"It was just a different world," said Dzikowicz, adding news of an abducted child now spreads much more quickly.
The addition of Amber Alert text messages will help, but only if members of the public understand the crucial role they play in finding an abducted child, Dzikowicz said. "Look back to the Peter Whitmore abductions in 2006."
Whitmore abducted a 14-year-old Winnipeg boy and then went to Saskatchewan, where he kidnapped a 10-year-old boy from a rural area.
The incident triggered the first Amber Alert in Saskatchewan, which ended two days later, when an area resident spotted Whitmore hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse near Kipling, about 150 kilometres east of Regina.
"It was a farmer who had his eyes and ears open and saw something weird at a farmhouse," Dzikowicz said.
The two boys were rescued, and Whitmore was arrested. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexual assault, and received a life sentence.
"We need to be reminding people to trust their instincts when they see something that’s odd or odd behaviour," Dzikowicz said, pointing to a more recent example.
"We had a missing little girl who was missing for a couple of years, until a Good Samaritan on the subway in Montreal saw a mom acting strangely with her daughter."
The man wasn’t sure if the mom was mentally ill or scared, but instead of turning a blind eye, he called police.
"They came down and they realized this child had been abducted and was missing for a couple of years."
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Amber Alerts are only successful if the public pays attention, she said.
"It’s not naive to think you could be the person who sees that kid."
The public had previously been able to voluntarily sign up to receive Amber Alert notifications on their cellphones and wireless devices (at wirelessamber.ca or by texting Amber to 26237). However, starting April. 6, all Manitobans with a wireless LTE device, such as a smartphone, will receive Amber Alerts via text message through the Alert Ready system.
An Amber Alert is issued only when an abduction has been confirmed, it is believed the victim is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death, and there is sufficient descriptive information about the victim and the suspect or the suspect’s vehicle to ensure the public can identify them, according to the Winnipeg Police Service website.
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THE Amber Alert program (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) originated in Arlington, Texas, in 1996, and was named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted while riding her bicycle.
After her body was found a few days later, following an extensive search, Texans organized a system that encouraged law enforcement agencies to alert the media in the wake of a confirmed child abduction.
The program has since been adopted by such agencies across the United States and Canada.
From 2003 to 2012, Canada issued 64 Amber Alerts involving 73 abducted children. Of those, 70 were recovered and returned safely.
In 2014, there were 41,342 reports of missing children in Canada. Of these, 122 were for a parental abduction, while only 29 related to a stranger abduction.
From 1987 to 2014, the number of children reported missing per year in Canada has declined by more than 15,000, the Canadian Police Information Centre says.