Ontario’s Amber Alert turns 20

Barely hours after being introduced to the world at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Met campus in January 2004, a newborn child was packed into a duffle bag and smuggled out of the maternity ward.

Less than an hour later, descriptions of the abductors — the baby’s parents — were being broadcast on radio stations across Ontario and posted on digital highway signs.

Hundreds of thousands of Ontarians had now joined in the hunt for the missing baby.

Windsor police investigators knocked on doors of likely local locations the parents might be found, and officers even scoured back alleys around the Met campus — just in case. But less than 24 hours after the hospital issued an internal Code Yellow, for a missing person within the hospital, and staff alerted police, the missing infant was retrieved safe and sound in Toronto.

At the time of the emergency public alert being sent out by the OPP, Ontario’s Amber Alert system was also but an infant, having launched exactly a year earlier. The Windsor Star played a part in the child abduction information system being brought to the province via news stories of how effective it was elsewhere, editorials urging its adoption here and a Star reporter’s query to Ontario’s top cop.
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It was after one such Star editorial that then-public safety and security minister Bob Runciman — in Windsor to speak at the Police Association of Ontario’s annual gathering — was asked whether the province might consider Amber, which had just been credited with saving the lives of three children in its first year of operation in Michigan.

That was in August 2002, and the minister said he would personally look into it. Ontario’s Amber Alert launched the following January, only weeks after Alberta became the first Canadian province to implement the system.

Amber stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response but was created in Texas in 1996 in the aftermath of the abduction and brutal murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman that same year. Similar to tornado and other severe weather warnings, it’s all about speed and reach of information warning of imminent danger.


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