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Families urge passage of NDP bill to create missing vulnerable people alerts

A private member's bill from New Democrat Monique Taylor that would implement an alert system for vulnerable people similar to Amber Alerts
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The father of an 11-year-old boy with autism and the daughter of a senior with Alzheimer's disease, who both died after going missing, are among those urging the Ontario government to create a new alert to keep people like them safe. A man walks in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — The father of an 11-year-old boy with autism and the daughter of a senior with Alzheimer's disease, who both died after going missing, are among those urging the Ontario government to create a new alert to keep people like them safe.

A private member's bill from New Democrat Monique Taylor that would implement an alert system for vulnerable people similar to Amber Alerts is now being studied by a legislative committee.

The bill was inspired by the stories of Draven Graham, a boy with autism who drowned in 2022 after going missing, and Shirley Love, a senior who died in December of that year after leaving her home not dressed for winter weather, Taylor said. She read out supportive statements from their families.

"This isn't just about my son, Draven, or children in general," Justin Graham's statement read. "This is for anyone that has a disability. This bill is not only to protect our children and loved ones, but for the safety and peace of mind that they're going to be safe going forward."

Shirley Love went missing on a sunny December afternoon, but within two hours darkness fell and bitterly cold temperatures set in, her daughter wrote in a statement read out by Taylor.

"She was not dressed for winter weather and her confusion would prevent her from seeking shelter or returning home," Lori Brown said in her statement. 

"Two hours was all we had. My mom died cold and alone in a brushy area of a nearby golf course, a tragic end to a beautiful life that could have been prevented with a simple alert." 

There are already various tools used to find missing people and try to help keep vulnerable people out of danger, Taylor said, but this alert system would be a necessary additional layer.

"There is not one system that catches all and I don't think that anybody really is looking to build one system that catches all," she told the committee.

"I think there are different levels of criteria, of tools that could be used. This to me, is when all other tools fail, this is the panic button."

The alerts proposed in the bill as currently worded are intended to capture people with cognitive impairments, Taylor said. They could be issued by the Ontario Provincial Police, at the request of an officer with the provincial force or a local police service, in the same way as Amber Alerts limited to a geographical area relevant to the search for the missing person.

Taylor introduced her bill in March of 2023 and was concerned that the government was trying to kill it when the Progressive Conservatives abruptly sent it to the committee stage rather than having a debate on it.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra said at the time that he believed the bill was flawed and he wanted it to go to committee so it could be improved.

The Alzheimer Society of Ontario and the Ontario Autism Coalition are also supporting Taylor's bill.

Leah Kocmarek, a director with the autism coalition who has an autistic, non-verbal son, said families whose children are prone to elopement have action plans, extra locks and alarms on every door and window at home, and take extra precautions when outside, but big risks still remain.

"Families with an autistic loved one must remain constantly vigilant of our surroundings," she told the committee. 

"It is only with many layers and mitigation that families with vulnerable loved ones can begin to feel welcome and safe in engaging with their communities...An alert that can be disseminated to our community can mean a difference between life and death."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press


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