Toronto police fielded dozens of calls via 911 Tuesday morning that had nothing to do with emergencies.
Instead, Allyson Douglas-Cook, a spokeswoman for the force, says callers rattled off complaints about early morning Amber Alerts that disrupted their sleep while officers were scrambling to find a missing three-year-old.
Some of the callers, she says, even asked if they could be “removed from the system,” which is specifically designed for situations where a child is thought to be in danger.
“It was just general complaints expressing their displeasure in the fact that they were woken up for this reason,” Douglas-Cook said.
In each case, operators remind the caller that 911 is not a complaints hotline, she says, while trying to get the person off the line as quickly as possible to free it up for real emergencies. Waterloo Regional Police echoed the sentiment in its own Tweet, reminding people that the misuse of 911 poses its own safety risk.
That this is not the first Amber Alert to prompt such public displeasure is disheartening, says Karen Chymy, director of operations for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
WATCH: Peel police reveal details of Amber Alert complaints made to 911
Only months ago, Peel Regional Police released some of the complaint calls that were made after they issued an Amber Alert for 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar, who was later found dead.
One person reportedly called the alert “an invasion of my privacy,” while another reportedly told the operator: “No one can watch TV until the child is found. This will destroy our program. You can’t take away TV completely — it has to be secondary.”
Riya’s father, Roopesh Rajkumar, was arrested shortly after a resident heard details about his vehicle via the Amber Alert, saw it and called police. Rajkumar was taken to the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and charged with first-degree murder, although he later died from his injuries.
WATCH: Global News coverage of the death of Riya Rajkumar
On Tuesday, Toronto police located the boy at the centre of the Amber Alert safely. He was in good health. Greater Sudbury Police Service issued the alert before 5 a.m., saying the child was last seen travelling via bus to Toronto with a woman.
Several people commented on news articles about the alert, saying they didn’t understand why the Amber Alert had to wake them up in Ottawa and the surrounding area when the alert specifically said the boy was thought to be en route to Toronto.
The fact is that the system’s jurisdictions are province by province, Chymy says. While that can be frustrating for some, she says, people need to remember that these are rare scenarios when children are thought to be in great risk.
“The importance of being able to get the information out so that the public can help in trying to locate the child as quickly as possible to reduce the risk is huge,” Chymy said.
WATCH: Calgary police say missing mother-daughter case did not meet criteria for Amber Alert
It’s also worth remembering, she says, that there are many cities throughout southern Ontario and it wouldn’t be hard for someone to change course or travel from one to another.
“What we know with Amber Alerts is many kids are located as a result of someone from the public identifying or providing information as a result of that alert,” she says. “It’s important that everyone receives it.”
LISTEN: Alan Carter is joined by Global News Journalist Jamie Mauracher to talk about the recent Amber Alert that caused another wave of complaints through 911.
Douglas-Cook says police hope callers will stop complaining via 911 since it ties up the line for actual emergencies. Chymy hopes those inclined to keep complaining will think twice.
“I hope that if it was your own child, or a child in your family, that you would want the same thing: as many people looking for that child as possible,” she said.
—With files from Sean O’Shea and Nick Westoll
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