BY SURJIT SINGH FLORA
A Mississauga driver who was worried someone would be killed by an erratic driver is upset that when he called emergency 911 for support, he was put on hold for six minutes. Sam Gill made the news last month when he recorded a video of himself driving and filming a driver weaving erratically in and out of oncoming traffic on a busy road at night. “9-1-1!
Pick up!” Gill can be heard yelling as films the other vehicle swerving around the road, mounting the curb and hitting a snowbank so hard at one point that it took off one of the vehicle’s headlights. Gill, who spoke to media outlets last week, said he wasn’t sure if the driver was impaired or in medical distress, but realized the vehicle was a danger to other motorists and didn’t display any form of control. Gill later said that he had to chase the speeding vehicle because he was convinced that the driver could kill himself and others on the road. Upon calling 9-1-1, however, an operator put him on hold for more than six minutes. During that time, the driver of the other vehicle is shown slipping in and out of oncoming traffic while Gill honked his horn and yelled for people to get out of the way.
This is not the only case in Mississauga that has resulted in concerns over the usage of the emergency line and potential misuse. In fact, the National Emergency Numbers Association (NENA), which regulates emergency phone services in Canada, has not set standards that require the adoption of emergency services. The voluntary adoption rules were also adopted by the NENA in 2006, stating that 90 per cent of the 911 calls should be picked up by the operator within ten seconds. The concept of picking up the phone within ten seconds is misused by many people.
When it comes to Peel Region, this area is well-known for false 9-1-1 calls made for frivolous reason. Last year, a man called 9-1-1 because a restaurant put tomatoes in his chicken sandwich that he didn’t order. Another case involved a woman who called the police to come and give her a ride, as she was late heading to work. In 2017, Peel Region received 3,565,911 calls, out of which 313,000 bogus calls were logged. These figures point to why Mississauga council passed a resolution two days ago recommending the Ontario government that those who misuse 9-1-1 be punished.
In Alberta and Nova Scotia, a wrongful 9-1-1 caller can be fined $5,000 for a first-time offender and a $10,000 fine for a second-time offender. Following the death of four people in two accidents last year, the Coroner’s Jury in Ontario ruled that the provincial government should create an independent body that had the power to improve the 9-1-1 system and raise awareness about the emergency line in public.
The question also arises as to why such persons should not be jailed under the law for “interfering with the functioning of the police”. A few years ago, the Telecommunications Commission of Canada prepared a report called Matters related to Emergency 9-1-1, in which an elephant drawing represented the various branches of telecommunications / services. The branches included Public Safety Canada, Ambulance Services, Fire, Police, Provincial Emergency Management, Rogers, Shaw, telephone companies and local police services. According to a report by the Telecommunications Commission, the health of the “9-1-1 elephant” is shown deteriorating significantly.
The reasons for its poor health include a large gap in the public’s expectations and the actual reality of the 911 system, no standardized set-up, no regular source of funding, and the absence of any federal government oversight. Ontario does not have legislation to govern the delivery of 9-1-1 service or to provide secure funding for it. It is probably time for the local, provincial, and federal governments to consider the responsibility of the state and take steps to improve the 9-1-1 system.
These steps should include punishment for the negligence, hiring the right amount of staff, and making the 9- 1-1 system the epitome of sophisticated telephone technology. Gill, after his experience seeing dangerous driving in Mississauga, iss worried about what might happen to his family or any others if there is another emergency such as this one or any kind. “We’ve lost our faith, and that’s not a good feeling,” he told the CBC earlier this month.