Last Thursday, millions of Ontario residents were jolted awake — or at least disturbed — by a sharp, loud ringtone on their cellphones. It was a necessary disruption as a young girl’s life hung in the balance. That some would disagree is an unfortunate statement about that apathy some have shown to that one life and those of others.
Those people received that alert because something was amiss and authorities believed someone could help to keep a vulnerable child alive. The system was designed with specific criteria so that it is only to be used when a child is in imminent danger. To put it into perspective, since Amber Alerts were introduced in Canada in 2003, there have been less than 10 per year. Fortunately, in most of those cases, lives were saved. One would think, with the addition of modern communications technology, that rate of success will only increase in the future.
Unfortunately, in this instance the Amber Alert did not lead to Riya Rajkumar being found alive and safe. Peel police did say, however, that it produced tips that led them to find the car in question and make an arrest. Maybe had the alert gone out sooner, it may have made the difference.
Anyone picturing their own child or family member in a dangerous situation like an abduction surely could put themselves in the position of Riya’s family. Surely, then, they’d understand this little bit of intrusiveness. And, yes, even if a bad person couldn’t travel hours across Ontario in a short amount of time, they’d be hoping that someone in those far-flung areas might know a relative or friend and take a couple seconds to make mention of the bulletin, just in case there’s any chance at a miracle.
From that perspective, it’s hard to reckon the verbal backlash against Thursday’s notification, but it wouldn’t be the first instance in recent memory where a segment of society has been criticized for being entitled, tone deaf, cynical, or self-absorbed. It won’t be the last. What’s even more disturbing, however, is the way people put others in danger by tying up 911 resources to complain about this mere inconvenience in their lives. One 911 dispatch centre, alone, reported over 300 calls in the first hour.
Maybe those people truly don’t care, but one would think they should feel terrible that their complaints might have tied up a line and prevented a tip coming through that would have helped police locate the car earlier. Not only that, but while those dispatchers were having to wade through which calls were legit and which weren’t, it’s a good bet someone’s emergency waited. An ambulance might have lost valuable minutes getting to the home of a heart attack victim. Police could have heard about a crime in progress after the fact. That kitchen fire might have spread to twice as much property. And, that person with a mental illness in crisis might have given up on waiting for that last saving lifeline. The inconvenience, no matter the hour, seems pretty minor in comparison.
This tragedy can become a teachable moment. There is a network of emergency workers and systems in place that is ready to serve. Thursday, it was Riya’s circle. Who knows about today? There’s value in understanding and respecting that security blanket so it can help in one’s hour of need. Or, there’s always the option to turn off the alerts and turn a blind eye — but should the shoe be on the other foot, it surely won’t seem such an inconvenience.