AMBER Alert is an important tool for the RCMP

Information on how the AMBER Alert program works in light of the recent tragedy in Blairmore, Alta.

AMBER Alert is a critical tool for the RCMP.

There has been a lot of talk in the public and in the media as of late about the AMBER Alert program.

An America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert is issued when a child abduction situation meets the established criteria to seek the public’s help to locate a missing child.

All of the following conditions must be met before an authorized person within law enforcement agencies can activate an AMBER Alert.

–               The victim is under the age of 18

–                Police have reasonable grounds to believe that the victim has been abducted

–                Police have reasonable grounds to believe the victim is in imminent danger

–                Police have obtained enough descriptive information about the victim, abductor and/or the vehicle involved

–                Police believe that the alert can be issued in a time frame that will provide a reasonable expectation that the child can be returned or the abductor apprehended.

Following the kidnapping of a Sparwood boy in 2011 (who was subsequently found alive a few days later), incumbent Conservative MP David Wilks raised the issue in the House of Commons about making the AMBER Alert program a nationwide initiative.

Wilks said there was an opportunity to look at a national program which could potentially be run by the RCMP, that if an alert was issued anywhere in Canada it would automatically be disbursed to the rest of the country immediately. The notion, however, was rejected.

“The argument was that if a child goes missing in New Brunswick, why turn it on in British Columbia? And my argument back was, why not?”

The challenge, he said, is that an AMBER Alert is turned on by the province in jurisdiction.

“At the end of the day, if you could turn it on and it’s on in all 10 provinces and three territories, regardless of where the child goes missing, that would solve a lot of the problems that do come about because of jurisdiction.”

Cpl. Janelle Shoihet, media relations officer with the RCMP, said the most recent AMBER Alert issued for two-year-old Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, whose body was later discovered in a rural area of Blairmore, Alta., was reported in the media as being delayed in jurisdictions outside of Alberta. This, Shoihet said, isn’t accurate.

Shoihet explained that an alert in one province would be independent of any other AMBER Alert.

“When B.C. RCMP becomes aware of an AMBER Alert in a neighbouring jurisdiction, an assessment is made to determine whether the AMBER Alert meets the B.C. criteria and whether it should be activated here. If it does, a B.C. AMBER Alert is issued.”

In other words, it is not up to the initial province that issued the alert to issue it to other jurisdictions; it is, in fact, up to the other jurisdictions to decide whether the alert meets the criteria of those jurisdictions.
The reason a “delay” was reported in the media was because the alert wasn’t issued in B.C. for two hours after it was issued in Alberta.

During a Sept. 16 press conference, RCMP Supt. Tony Hamori, said there was “no undue delay in notifying the public” after the alert was issued in Alberta.

“AMBER Alert works and was critical to resolving this situation in Blairmore,” he said, adding the program is a “critical tool when it’s established a missing child might be vulnerable to harm”.

Two hours after Alberta RCMP issued the alert, an AMBER Alert was issued in the neighbouring jurisdictions of B.C., Saskatchewan and Montana as a result of a police risk assessment based on information received at the time, Hamori said.

“There was no undue delay in notifying the public, whose trust in the AMBER Alert system is critical to its effectiveness in helping us find missing children.”

Wilks said the challenge comes when there are border towns involved, such as in the case of Hailey.

“There’s where you run into the problem, because they just can’t notify quick enough. The challenge is in that first very critical first few minutes,” he said.

“I think there’s room for improvement, and with no fault to anyone, because the AMBER Alert is issued. It’s the challenge of jurisdictions. I think that if you could remove that – and we have a national police force that could oversee it, and yes, there’s some kinks that probably have to be worked out – but I think there’s a real possibility.”

The public can help put pressure on parliament to implement a nationwide program, he said.

“When we’re done with the election, whoever is representing this area or any of the 338 constituencies across Canada, is to put in petitions. If it came from all 338 constituencies, it would be a collective, strong voice.”

The AMBER Alert program uses highway message boards, radio and television announcements and text messages to notify the public of a missing child. Those mediums are used to immediately broadcast descriptions of the abducted victims, their abductors and suspect vehicles.

In B.C. the alert is a province-wide partnership involving law enforcement agencies in B.C., the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the B.C. Association of Broadcasters, Canada’s wireless telecommunications industry, Child Find B.C., and external partners.

More information about the AMBER Alert program can be found at http://bc.rcmp-grc.gc.ca.