HAMILTON -- A Hamilton man deliberately set out to tie up emergency lines when he called 911 to complain about an active Amber Alert, local police said Thursday as they announced a criminal charge against him.
Hamilton police said the man made his intentions clear Tuesday afternoon when he called 911 moments after first hearing the emergency signal indicating an Amber Alert was in progress.
At that time, Niagara Regional Police had issued a bulletin indicating they were searching for five children between the ages of five and 14 who were believed to be in imminent danger. The kids were found safely the next day in the company of their father, and no charges have been laid.
Hamilton police said the 70-year-old man who called 911 had been trying to rest at the time the alert was issued, and he viewed the public plea for help as a personal nuisance.
The suspect "stated that he did not have an emergency and was calling 911 to purposely tie up emergency lines," police said in a statement Thursday. "He indicated he would continue to call in response to the ongoing alert."
Police said they soon identified and arrested the man, charging him with one count of mischief. He's due to appear in court later this month.
While the man may be among the first to face a criminal charge over Amber Alert complaints, he's not alone in voicing them.
Police forces across Ontario have reported numerous calls to 911 in the wake of the federally mandated emergency broadcasts, which go out to wireless devices across the province whenever police believe a missing child is in imminent danger.
Each time an Amber Alert has been issued in the province this year, police forces have had to plead with the public to stop flooding 911 operators with complaints about the broadcasts.
Such pleas persisted even after the first Amber Alert of the year culminated in the death of an 11-year-old girl, Riya Rajkumar, who police say was killed by her father.
The frequent calls prompted an Ontario woman to launch an online petition asking the provincial government to consider instituting fines for those who tie up 911 resources to complain about the emergency broadcasts. The petition has garnered more than 113,000 signatures since it was launched in July.
Hamilton police on Thursday issued their own reminder that 911 calls are reserved for emergencies only, saying Amber Alerts fit that definition and have the capacity to save lives.
"Law enforcement agencies must meet strict guidelines before an Amber Alert is issued," the force said. "Alerts are an instrumental tool in assisting the public and police with locating a child who may be in danger."
This report by The Canadian Press was originally published on Oct. 3, 2019.