What you can do to make a difference

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The recent abduction and return of three-year-old Kienan Hebert to his family in Sparwood, B.C. was a true success in the history of Amber Alerts in Canada.

An Amber Alert was also instrumental in finding a seven-year-old girl from Fort Macleod, who briefly went missing Sept. 24.

First implemented in Alberta in 2002, the program has since had 15 Amber Alerts go out to the public, in hopes the information shared will bring the abducted child or adult home, safe and sound.

By 2004, the program was in place across the country and there have been 57 Amber Alert activations across Canada.

“Certainly, in Alberta there have been occasions where information received through the Amber Alert has helped recover the abducted person,” said Patrick Mears, spokesperson for the Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security office.

In Alberta, the emergency warning includes both child abductions and the abduction of an adult with mental or physical disabilities. In any case, certain criteria must be met before an Amber Alert can be activated.

Amber Alert

There have been 15 Amber Alerts activated in Alberta. Officials say the best thing to do when you hear one is to keep your eyes open and to call with any information you may have.

Illustration: Laura Lushington/Calgary JournalWhen the alert goes out, the Alberta Emergency Alert system sends out a message across radio, cable and satellite TV. The messages can include a description of the abducted child or adult, a description of a vehicle, a license plate number and a description of anyone the police are interested in.

“It’s a good example of a partnership work between police services and broadcasters,” Mears said.

“Furthermore, media releases are also sent to media outlets in TV, radio and newsprint to ensure the alert reaches as many people as possible.”

Electronic road signs on provincial highways also display the information to drivers.

Once the public has been informed, Mears said each Albertan essentially becomes an extra pair of eyes to help find the abducted individual.

The information is continuously shared with citizens until the missing person has been found.

“These are all tools to help with the idea in mind that the more you flood the community, the province, the city…with the picture, with the description on a constant basis, the more chance you have to find that child,” said Monique Perras, staff sergeant and non-commissioned officer in charge of the National Missing Children Services at the RCMP.


Amber Alerts originated in the United States in 1996. They were named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and killed in Texas. A.M.B.E.R also now stands for the America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response program.

Here in Alberta the following criteria must be met before the police can activate an Amber Alert:

  • Police believe that a child (or an adult with a proven mental or physical disability) has been abducted
  • Police believe that the abducted person is in danger of serious harm or death
  • There is enough descriptive information about the abducted person, the suspected abductor, and the mode of transportation used by the abductor to ensure identification by the public
  • The alert can be issued soon enough that the abducted person can be safely recovered and/or the abductor caught

Information courtesy of the Government of Alberta, the office of the Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security, and the Ontario Provincial Police

Perras suggested people open their eyes when they hear an Amber Alert and not to hesitate to call law enforcement if they think they see something that could help bring the person home.

“Never think that your tip or what you see is probably nothing important and somebody else will call it in because you were not the only one there,” said Perras, who is also the chair of the national Amber Alert Working Group.

“Never assume, let the police do their job.”

If you don’t have a tip to call into the police, passing on the Amber Alert information to others can also be great help.

“Share the information,” said Hanan Chebib, manager of development at the Missing Children Society of Canada.

“The great thing about social media these days is that everything is shareable. So, whether people are pushing that out through their Facebook pages, through their email, through their Twitter feeds, the more people who know about the situation, who have access to the information and who have access to contacting the right authorities in an Amber Alert, the better off we are.”

She noted that sharing it amongst your Facebook friends and Twitter followers can have a ripple effect that will see even more people notified of the alert.

However, Chebib said you must be careful that you are getting your information from a reliable source and that you are linking the information back to the source itself. This also helps create a trail of information in case the alert is updated, she said.

“I really firmly believe that we have the power of bringing children home and bringing them home safely and quickly. And the more people who engage in being part of that cause the better off we all are.”


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