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Child dials 911 on disconnected phone; OPP show up

By Emilie Quesnel [1]

BELLEVILLE – Two Ontario Provincial Police [2] officers arrived at a Hamilton Township home on Sunday after a child dialled 911 while playing with an old, disconnected cellphone.

Much to the family’s surprise, the cellphone was still capable of making emergency calls, even after being deactivated.

Const. Steve Bates of the Northumberland OPP said he wants everyone to be aware of this cellphone feature [3], which he said is “built into all cellphones for safety reasons.”

He says he is concerned that many parents have games on old phones that they let their young children play with, and they don’t consider the issue of the child making 911 calls.

When the OPP get a 911 call, they are obligated to respond the moment they have a verified location.

“We as OPP are duty-bound to go,” Bates said.

This service can save lives, but in instances like the one that happened Sunday, it can draw important services away from people who really need help, he said.

Marc Choma, a Belleville native and vice-president of communications and strategy at the Canadian Wireless Telecommunication Association, [4] said there are “two sides to (the) coin” when it comes to informing people about the ability to use deactivated phones to call 911.

On one hand, the feature could be a lifeline for someone in an emergency situation, Choma said. On the other hand, he said, people shouldn’t rely on it because “there’s no guarantee that the call will go through … and what are the chances the battery’s going to be powered up?”

The association doesn’t like to publicize the 911 feature, he said: “We don’t want to sound like we’re promoting that.”

To avoid accidental calls to 911, parents should be aware of their phone’s capabilities and should even consider removing the battery before allowing a child to play with it, he said.