In recent months, authorities have been highlighting the misuse of 9-1-1 calls. While some are clearly accidents, a large number of them are just making calls that should never be made to 9-1-1. Many people have been calling for harsher repercussions for those who call the 9-1-1 emergency line to complain about everything from Amber Alerts to missed trains to incorrect restaurant orders—and now the City of Mississauga has passed a motion to formally call on the province to punish those who make “frivolous or vexatious 9-1-1 calls.”
“There have been concerns about calls to Peel Regional Police after Amber Alerts,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie said during a January 15 General Committee meeting.
“They take time away from serious matters and emergencies,” she said, adding that people have called 9-1-1 to ask for “emergency rides” to train stations and to complain about restaurant employees getting their orders wrong.
Many call in to complain about Amber Alerts when authorities are hoping for calls that could lead to tips.
A city report entitled “Penalties for Frivolous or Vexatious 911 calls: Legislative Review” notes that in Ontario, the introduction of Amber Alerts to mobile devices in 2018 has resulted in the increased misuse of 9-1-1 by members of the public calling to complain about the alerts.
Back in October 2019, Crombie introduced a motion directing council to call on the Solicitor General of Ontario to enact legislation making it an offence to call 9-1-1 for the purpose of complaining about Amber Alerts. The motion was deferred, but a similar one passed at the recent meeting.
The city has argued that Ontario can look at best practices in other provinces.
The report says that fines for false, frivolous, or vexatious 9-1-1 calls range from $100 to $5,000 for a first offence and $10,000 for subsequent offences.
The report says that 9-1-1 misuse has also angered Ontario residents, even prompting one Toronto resident to create an online petition urging the government of Ontario to punish such individuals.
The petition has gained over 110,000 signatures since it was created in July 2019.
But while most councillors were on board with the motion, others expressed concern that potential legislation might deter people in emergency situations from calling 9-1-1—especially new Canadians who might not fully understand when and where penalties will apply.
“We’d have to define frivolous and vexatious. Our premier should know that this is a priority for us. We’re appalled by the number of calls that came in after the Amber Alert. We should undertake education campaigns so people know when to just call a non-emergency line instead of 9-1-1.”
When it comes to Amber Alerts, the public clearly has mixed reactions. Many residents will attest to waking up in a cold sweat at the sound of an Amber Alert in the middle of the night. The situation is probably worse for someone with a heart condition or anxiety issues. An Amber Alert could quite realistically be the cause for someone to have a medical emergency as a result. Needless to say, they will then call 911. -CINEWS