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Toronto council to debate 9-1-1 texting

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TORONTO—A city council vote this week could set Toronto on the path to becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada where all residents can send text messages to 9-1-1 operators instead of calling them.

Coun. Norm Kelly is calling on the city to request that the Toronto Police Services Board consider adopting emergency texting.

Many parts of Canada, including Toronto and 500 other Ontario communities, offer 9-1-1 texting for people with hearing or speech impairments.

Text service for people with special needs also exists in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, most of Quebec, and parts of Alberta and B.C.

But emergency texting for people without hearing or speech impairment is not available anywhere in Canada.

In January, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission started a consultation process to create a regulatory framework for what it calls “next generation 9-1-1.”

The CRTC said this program potentially could include extending 9-1-1 texting to all Canadians.

Kelly said calling 9-1-1 still would be the preferred means of communication, “but there could be circumstances where your safety’s at risk, and/or you want to pass on more information than you could in a telephone call, [like] a photograph or video.”

He said that, after tweeting about his motion, he heard from several people who said they had been in situations in which texting 9-1-1 would have made them feel safer than calling.

During the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., several bar patrons—afraid to draw the shooter’s attention by speaking to 9-1-1 operators—texted friends and family to ask them to call for help.

In the U.S., just over 650 of the country’s 6,000 emergency call centres accept 9-1-1 text messages.

Since 2014, the U.S. Federal Communications Commissions has required all wireless service providers to make 9-1-1 texting available to any emergency call centres that request it.

Many of the jurisdictions using 9-1-1 texting in the U.S. promote the service with the slogan, “Call if you can, text if you can’t.”

Kelly’s motion will be tabled in a council session that starts today and continues tomorrow.

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