A petition calling for changes to the Amber Alert criteria to be more inclusive of Indigenous communities has garnered more than 3,500 signatures.
Jamie Smallboy, originally from Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta. and now living in Vancouver, launched the online petition a month ago. At issue, is the current criteria that needs to be triggered to launch the Amber Alert system — criteria that ignores the needs and concerns of Indigenous communities, she says.
Smallboy says Indigenous people should be consulted on a revamped criteria, plus be involved from the start of an Amber Alert.
“They know our environment and our neighbourhood better” she says.
She cites the recent case of five-year-old Frank Young, last seen near his residence on Red Earth Cree Nation in Saskatchewan on April 19.
An Amber Alert for Young, who is still missing, was never issued.
“The response we are getting is it has to fit a criteria in order to activate an Amber Alert,” Chief Fabian Head of Red Earth Cree Nation told a news conference in late April.
According to the BC RCMP, the amber alert program is used on highway message boards, radio and television announcements and text messages when a child abduction situation meets an established criteria.
In a statement to Glacier Media, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says the alert is only activated by authorized users within law enforcement agencies. All of the following criteria must be met before an alert is sent out:
- The victim is under the age of 18
- Police have reasonable grounds to believe that the victim has been abducted
- Police have reasonable grounds to believe the victim is in imminent danger
- Police have obtained enough descriptive information about the victim, abductor and/or the vehicle involved
- Police believe that the alert can be issued in a time frame that will provide a reasonable expectation that the child can be returned or the abductor apprehended.
"To be clear, the decision of issuing an Amber Alert is based solely on the criteria listed,” said a spokesperson.
Smallboy would like the criteria to expand to the missing, and Indigenous women, too.
“Our Indigenous women and girls are going missing and being found deceased at alarming rates,” the petition states. “A billboard campaign with an alert system connected to the missing person reports would bring much needed awareness and attention to a disappearance of our women and children.”
She says the problem occurs when "no one witnessed an actual abduction, and there is no description of the abductor or description of the vehicle.”
That is especially the case in rural communities and on reserve, she says.
“On the reserve, you have less opportunity for a neighbour to see if a random person comes and abducted your child,” she tells Glacier Media, pointing to the sometimes long distances between properties.
“Obviously an abduction in the city, a vehicle, a description; that is more realistic in the city, not on the reserve.”
Smallboy plans to bring her petition to the attention of the Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Indigenous Services.
“It’s not just for us here, it’s for my granddaughter, her daughter, her daughter’s daughter. It is for everyone in the generations to come,” she says.
With a file from SaskToday.ca and the Canadian Press