Nickel Belt MPP reintroduces bill to ensure all Ontarians have access to 911
It may come as a surprise to some, but not everyone in Ontario has access to 911 services.
That's a fact that Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas is hoping to change after reintroducing her bill entitled 'An Act to Enact 911 for Everyone.'
The bill was tabled Wednesday and if passed, has two goals. It's looking to do away with the 1-800 numbers that currently exist in the event of an emergency and change that to 911. It also gives the ombudsman the responsibility to investigate complaints with the system.
"What we're asking is simple," Gélinas said in a Zoom news conference Thursday. "It doesn't cost much money, the technology exists but the provincial government needs to get involved so that everyone, no matter where you are in Ontario, has access to 911.
"This has been done in most other provinces, it's time for Ontario to step up to the plate," she added.
Speaking alongside her was a Sudbury woman who knows all too well the perils of not being able to reach 911.
Husband had heart attack
Helena Shepherd-Snider had trouble reaching 911 a few years ago at their home on Tower Bay Road after her husband had a heart attack.
"I called 911 and a message came over my phone that said 'you do not have 911 service, call the operator,'" Shepherd-Snider said.
"I called the operator and after a long wait and several options, she came on the line and I asked her to connect me to 911. She told me that I should call 911 because they would want to know my location."
She then had to explain the situation to the operator, which took a longer time than normal and delayed the ambulance's arrival.
"Tower Bay Road, less than 20 minutes from a fire station, was not on their grid," Shepherd-Snider said.
She said they've devoted countless hours to the issue over the last three years, which has caused her family undue stress.
"It's a very, very terrible, panicky feeling and then you live with the fear after you know this has taken place and you know you don't have the 911 service," she said. "My husband and I are in our 80s and we had to sell our home on Tower Bay Road last year and one of the reasons was that we did not have 911 service."
The couple has since moved into the city.
Gélinas says stories like this are all too common. She's hoping the ombudsman will assume the responsibility of investigating complaints.
"There are several people who also call 911 to find service in French doesn't exist and they have to speak in English," she said in French.
Every moment matters
The NDP health critic says every moment matters in the event of an emergency and language barriers shouldn't be a factor for Franco-Ontarians.
Finally the bill also reiterates recommendations made by the Coroner following a fatal on Lake Wahnapitae in 2013.
"By supporting this bill, we can take action to promise our system so that these tragedies are not in vain," said Gelinas. "This law will also help people regain confidence in this critical service."
CTV News reached out to the Solicitor General's office for comment on the bill and we received this statement:
"We are working to support the 911 sector to transition to an upgraded Next Generation 911 system.
"Significant technology, infrastructure and broadband connection improvements will be required to operate a robust Next Gen 911 system. Most municipalities and areas within Ontario have access to 911 services; covering the majority of the province’s population. However, we know there are currently areas of Ontario without access to 911 emergency communication services, including some northern, rural, remote communities, unincorporated areas, and First Nation communities. Where 911 services are unavailable, people should continue to call the appropriate local 10-digit number for emergency situations.
"We are continuing to make progress on the important work of ensuring that Ontario has a modern emergency communications system that enables quick and effective responses to emergency situations. This includes investments to replace aging and long-neglected infrastructure, as well as working with sector partners to improve our understanding of areas currently without 911 services as Canada prepares to move to the Next Gen 911 platform by March 2025."