Winnipeg, MB: The Canadian Centre for Child Protection would like to offer its sincerest condolences to the Dunbar and Blanchette families for their loss of Terry and Hailey. Our thoughts are with them and their community today.
In the aftermath of the tragic events that have unfolded in Blairmore, Alberta, our agency has been flooded with questions both from the public and the media surrounding the AMBER Alert program. In light of what appears to be a great deal of confusion about the purpose and implementation of AMBER Alerts, our agency wishes to provide some clarification and information.
The AMBER Alert program began in the United States in 1996 and started in Canada in 2002. AMBER Alert notification systems were first developed at a time when we had limited internet use and no social media. We were reliant on the interruption of broadcasts to let people know a child was in danger and we needed their help. The public would have no way of knowing about the crisis until their TV or radio programs were interrupted to share the alert. Limited criteria and time limits were created for the alerting system to minimize the disruption of programming.
With the evolution of how the public consumes news and information, we no longer face the same limitations and challenges. Today, through social media, smartphones, and other applications, we can immediately reach people across the country. Those who are in transit and able to assist can be armed with all the information about a child in need.
It is important to acknowledge that the motivation and intent of the offender is more significant in the death of a child than the timing of an AMBER Alert. To suggest that a delay in triggering an AMBER Alert causes death by allowing the abductor to commit his/her crime, incorrectly shifts the responsibility from the offender onto a tool designed to assist in the safe location of a child. While we all recognize the need to engage the public to assist in possible sightings or the location of a suspect, vehicle or child — to suggest that the public’s role is paramount to the safe recovery of the child, falsely places the responsibility on the community.
We live in a very different world today. The AMBER Alert notification system is one tool and it has important value, but we must be reminded it is just that — a tool. When a child is abducted, the police response is massive and employs many investigative tactics. By overstating the role of the AMBER Alert system, we distort the public’s expectation of its value and ability to prevent a child death. Misplacing its role creates unrealistic expectations for families, for the public and the media.
Fortunately, in this day and age, we are able to engage the public immediately through a multitude of communication mediums. A missing child report shared with the media, without an AMBER Alert, will receive more public attention today than an AMBER Alert issued pre-internet. Within minutes of issuing an AMBER Alert, or a missing child notification, the news travels quickly through social media. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection believes that our collective focus needs to be on educating the public on what steps they should take when an AMBER Alert is issued.
Each citizen has a role to play in assisting in the location of a missing child. We encourage all Canadians to visit protectchildren.ca to sign up for missing children alerts and receive educational resources about ways to keep children safe.