By Sue Tiffin
A few days after a community-wide search for a Lindsay boy ended in tragedy, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit board unanimously agreed to ask public health agencies throughout the province to support changes or enhancements being made to missing person alert systems.
City of Kawartha Lakes Deputy Mayor Tracy Richardson brought the discussion to the table on June 16, asking the board to respond to a community ask for an emergency system that could be utilized to instantly alert the public of missing vulnerable people, including kids with disabilities and seniors with dementia.
During the 24-hour search for 11-year-old Draven Graham, who had autism and had gone missing from his home, a public outcry requested that an Amber Alert be issued to communicate search efforts with the greater community rather than social media and media alerts, but Amber Alerts are strictly used for children who have been abducted.
Several petitions for upgraded response systems launched while the search efforts for Draven were still ongoing, with one of those surveys, at press time, having more than 80,000 signatures. According to media reports, Inspector Tom Hickey with the City of Kawartha Lakes Police Service told the police services board on June 16 that based on the police investigation, an alert system wouldn’t have resulted in a different outcome in the case of the search for Draven, whose body was found in the Scugog River on June 13, but said the movement for an alert system for people with disabilities could be a benefit in the future.
Richardson asked if the health unit board could, as an example, send a letter to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.
“Maybe it’s time that we looked at changing how we bring out messaging when we’re in an emergency situation, as of what just happened in this past weekend,” Richardson told the health unit board, noting her municipal staff is looking into what vulnerable person registry programs and registries exist and what could be added. “But I was thinking, as a board, is there something we can do? I think, even from where we’re sitting up in Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton, everywhere here, we have large bodies of water here, we have lots of water, and those issues alone create emergency situations. At this time, I’m feeling it, I’ve spoken to many individuals, I was out there on Monday, I just think … is there more we can do?”
John Henderson, vice-chair on the health board and mayor of Cobourg, said that morning he had received a number of emails from residents regarding the inclusion of a vulnerable person alert system similar to the Amber Alert system, which is in use throughout the country and broadcasts alerts on radio and television stations as well as to mobile devices. He said he immediately asked for an item to be put on the police services board meeting agenda in his jurisdiction for discussion. He said in his experience as a principal in Durham he had learned much about autism while working with students, and was heartbroken to hear about Draven’s death in Lindsay.
“Personally I’m very supportive because anything we can to protect wellbeing and safety I think is paramount, but just to let you know, those are the things I’m attempting to do with team performance, that’s what we’re trying to do already because I’m not currently aware of an Amber Alert for specialized groups,” he said.
Health unit board chair Doug Emslie said an enhanced alert system was discussed at an accessibility committee meeting in the City of Kawartha Lakes the day before, and a motion could be brought to council there to send a letter to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, looking for support from members that might send letters asking the province to consider a review of the current alert system. Along those lines, he asked if the health unit board might send a letter to the Association of Local Public Health Agencies.
“If we get something from AMO, and something from alPHa, perhaps the province will look at if they need to expand the Amber kind of alert, or whether they come up with another alert that would encompass some of these individuals [in at-risk populations],” he said.
The board unanimously passed the motion to write a letter.
“It’s a tragic situation and I think we all in the community want to do what we can to support those most vulnerable,” said Dr. Natalie Bocking, HKPR health unit’s medical officer of health.