Although a five-year-old girl allegedly abducted by her father from a Markham school on Tuesday was found safe thanks to a sharp-eyed resident, many on social media are questioning why it took police so long to send an Amber Alert notification.
“Where is the #AmberAlert?” Twitter user Sriyan Kannangara questioned less than half an hour after York Regional Police posted a child abduction tweet.
“There should be an AMBER ALERT young girl possibly abducted by her father in Markham,” Coco Olive wrote on Twitter a few minutes later.
“Why is there no Amber Alert? A child abducted should be an automatic Amber Alert,” Twitter user Lil De Filice wrote.
York Regional Police were called to Armadale Public School on Coppard Avenue on Tuesday afternoon. Officers said the girl was taken from the school at around 2 p.m. by her 25-year-old father, who is not supposed to have access rights. Police said school staff weren’t aware that he wasn’t supposed to have access to his daughter. Officers were called at around 3 p.m.
The pair left the school in a taxi and were dropped off at a plaza about three kilometres away. They later left in another vehicle.
At 4:05 p.m., police put out a tweet on the service’s corporate account advising of a child abduction. Officers shared photos of the girl and her father along with a brief description. A minute later, police issued a news release with more detailed descriptions of the pair and more information about the incident.
At 4:43 p.m., Global News received an email from the Ontario Association of Broadcasters saying an Ontario Amber Alert was “in effect.” Eighteen minutes later, the official Ontario Amber Alert Twitter account shared alert details.
However, it wasn’t until 5:18 p.m. that the Amber Alert notification was received on cellphones.
WATCH: Do Amber Alerts work? Sean O’Shea reports.
Shortly before 6 p.m., the Amber Alert was cancelled after the girl was found safe. York Regional Police Const. Laura Nicolle said someone who saw the photos of the father and daughter released by police and shared by the media called officers to report seeing the pair. They were later tracked down at a Fairburn Drive industrial plaza about 10 kilometres away from the school.
“Obviously, this individual saw these people, called us right away, and we were able to get over there and get both of them in custody and make sure that little girl was OK,” she said.
Early Wednesday morning, police told Global News the man was released from custody and no charges will be laid.
What are the criteria for issuing Amber Alerts?
Under the Ontario Provincial Police guidelines for activating Amber Alerts, a law enforcement agency needs to believe a child under 18 has been abducted and that the child is in danger. The agency must also have descriptive information about the child, the abductor or the vehicle — enough information to allow the investigating agency “to believe that an immediate broadcast alert will help in locating the child.”
If the guidelines are met, the responding police service needs to submit an Amber Alert request form to the OPP. The OPP will then activate the alert on behalf of the requesting police service.
Emergency alerts are then sent out through the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination System (NAAD). The OPP said the NAAD shares the alerts through cable and satellite companies, over-the-air television stations, radio stations, social media and through cellphone text messages.
When asked about the delay in Amber Alerts on Wednesday, OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne told Global News there was a step missed in the cancellation process that allowed for people to continue receiving the alerts once it ended.
“We pushed out the amber alert shortly after 5 p.m. and then were notified … around 6 p.m. that the child was located safely … and then the process moves forward to cancel the Amber Alert,” she said.
“So that was put into the system and we were advised around 7 p.m. that the alert was still being broadcast through television and satellite services. So we did a check why was this still happening and realized that on our end, we missed a step in the process of the cancellation so that was rectified.”
WATCH: OPP spokesperson sheds some light on way Amber Alerts are used
Meanwhile, Nicolle said officers went through the appropriate process in requesting the Amber Alert from the OPP.
“An Amber Alert is one tool that’s used by police to find a child; it certainly is not the only tool. Immediately when we became aware of this, we started investigating and we started conducting all the investigative steps we normally do, including putting out those photos to the public and the media,” she said.
“There’s a process for that, and it is not an immediate thing. We do contact the OPP and we lay out the specific criteria that we’re dealing with to see if it meets the threshold for an Amber Alert. At that point, if it does meet the threshold, the OPP will release that information and release that Amber Alert.”