Critics say N.S. officials are talking too long to activate provincial alert system
HALIFAX -- Alert Ready is designed to deliver critical and potentially life-saving alerts through television, radio and cellphones across the country.
But officials in Nova Scotia are once again being criticized for how long it takes the province to activate the emergency alert system.
"You can't have bureaucrats, politicians, RCMP haggling over commas and periods and capital letters, just get the alert out," said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston.
Janson Bryan Baker was arrested Wednesday in Amherst, N.S., after a 19-hour manhunt that started in Riverview, N.B.
Baker is accused of shooting a 35-year-old man outside Riverview High School, then fleeing to Nova Scotia. The man, who is a teacher, remains in hospital with what are believed to be non-life threatening injuries.
In New Brunswick, an emergency alert was sent out to the public six hours after the shooting. In Nova Scotia, a public alert was issued roughly three hours after the suspect's vehicle was found abandoned.
David Kogan, the mayor of Amherst, says everyone wants an alert as quickly as possible, but there is criteria used to justify when an alert goes out.
"For example, at around nine o'clock in the morning, I was informed that just finding the presence of the car in Amherst really didn't meet the criteria for an alert," said Kogan.
"There is a time element that people don't quite understand and you have to be very careful that there isn't an alert sent out so often about different things that people start ignoring them."
David Fraser, a privacy lawyer in Halifax, says the use of the Alert Ready system raises a number of questions about how police communicate with the public.
"Not everybody is on Twitter, not everybody is following RCMP Nova Scotia or their local police department at all times, and so when it comes to information about a danger or a risk to the public, what's the best way to get that message out and obviously, a large number of people are saying the Ready Alert system should be used and should be used more promptly," said Fraser.
In Nova Scotia, alerts are issued by EMO, but only after police make a request and provide an accurate, approved message.
Wednesday's alert was sent out by EMO seven minutes after it was received by the organization.
"The RCMP has an issue when it comes to whether they want to use emergency alerts. We've seen that, they need to fix their protocol," said Premier Stephen McNeil.
Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather issued a statement late Thursday about the Alert Ready system.
In it, Leather said, "It is clear there is political and public desire for police to issue emergency alerts."
But that, "This desire manifests as demand without understanding of public safety risk or the incident. This is reflected in demands for alerts to be issued sooner and even for incidents where the alert may result in greater harm to the public or police. Public statements being made without fact undermine excellent police work and solid operational decisions."
Leather said police are in the unenviable position of deciding on when and in what circumstances alerts are issued.
In relation to the search for Janson Baker this week, Leather said: "The behind the scenes police work that took place in order to be in a position to locate and arrest the suspect without incident was incredible and something to support rather than criticize. When we were confident a public alert would not impede his apprehension, jeopardize public or police safety, we requested an alert be issued."
The opposition says, if EMO can't deliver alerts in a timely manner, there should be a new minister in charge.
"The premier has one foot out the door, so we can't really expect this (him) to take any action on the file, but what we're hoping for is the new premier, the new Liberal leader, has the common sense to put somebody in the portfolio that understands the importance of an emergency alert," said Houston.
It's an idea the premier dismissed.
"The opposition should actually look at the source of the issue and deal with that instead of looking for every opportunity to find some cheap political way to become involved in something. It's just simply ridiculous," said McNeil.