Calls for wider, more inclusive Amber Alert criteria after 8-year-old girl’s death in Alberta

Indigenous people and advocates are again calling for the criteria to activate an Amber Alert to expand, after an eight-year-old girl went missing in Edmonton and was later found dead.

Three people have been charged after homicide detectives began investigating the child’s disappearance on April 24, following a welfare check. Her body was found five days later on Samson Cree Nation, about an hour south of Edmonton.

While it varies from province to province, according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the basic criteria for triggering an Amber Alert includes a belief the child has been abducted, is in grave danger and the existence of information, such as a vehicle licence plate, that may help locate the child or abductor.

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Lindsay Lobb, the centre’s director of operations, said there needs to be an alerting process that is available and accessible to those who don’t meet that criteria.

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“Amber Alerts are very specific to a certain type of missing child, and they’re very, very important and will remain important going forward, but we need to recognize that there are children that are going missing for any number of reasons that also would have inherent risk,” she said.

“And so the importance of having the ability to alert the public when they can be of assistance in locating a child is really critical.”

The child’s death has also prompted the recirculation of an online petition, started last year with now almost 20,000 signatures, that asks for criteria to be expanded.

“It is critical to the safety and well-being of our children to have a system and alert in place,” the petition reads.

“Think of little Frank (Young)Tina Fontaine, Chelsea Poorman, Billie Johnson and so so many others that could still be with us if we had proper alerts and systems in place.”

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Last week, the federal government unanimously adopted a motion to recognize the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people crisis as a Canada-wide emergency.

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Tabled by Winnipeg-Centre MP Leah Gazan, the consent motion included a proposal for a Red Dress Alert system that would notify the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirit person goes missing.

“I am pleased that all parties recognize the urgency of this ongoing genocide,” said Gazan in a news release. “Families and communities have waited far too long for this federal government to act.”

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The child protection centre operates which is a national website that highlights prevention information, immediate steps to take if your child has gone missing, support for families and parents, as well as a database of missing children.

“(Our database) has a very low threshold for being activated,” said Lobb. “So what we want to know is whether you have the consent of the guardian, is it going to be used in conjunction with a policing investigation, and then is the public going to benefit or can that child be located by virtue of involving the public in that first.

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When the organization issues an alert, a webpage is created so all the information can be housed in one place and shared across multiple platforms, like email, social media or text message.

Lobb said when it comes to additional and more inclusive alert systems, the best way forward is collaboration.

“Everybody is going to bring their own lens and their own experience and I don’t think one thing trumps the other in terms of ‘important,’” she said.

“Bringing everybody’s experiences together, everybody’s knowledge together, is the way that we’re going to move forward and hopefully be able to come to some sort of consensus on how we can best support families and best find missing loved ones.”

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