Question re: Emergency 911 coverage - April 10, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Community Services about his claim last week that 911 has been tested in all Yukon communities.

On March 24, 2014, the Government of Yukon received a letter from the CRTC regarding the work the government had undertaken and it said — and I quote: “The Yukon interim rural 911 emergency response access system service proposed in your letter does not meet basic 911 or enhanced 911 service definitions.”

In other words, the CRTC has already told the minister that the temporary solution that he is working on does not qualify as a 911 service. I have a very simple question for the minister. Why did the minister tell Yukoners that 911 has been tested in all of the communities when the CRTC had already told him the system he was testing did not even qualify as 911?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      I’m somewhat dismayed by the member’s lack of understanding of the letter. I would encourage him to read it again, because in fact, what the letter goes on to say is: “It is open to the Yukon government to discuss with Northwestel the possibility of filing a tariff application.” The member clearly has not understood the letter and he might want to read it again, because what we have heard from the CRTC is that in fact the Yukon government along with Northwestel can apply and they will consider whether the system that has been tested is something they will allow us to operate or not.

Mr. Silver:   I don’t know if this mic is on or not but I’m not talking about tariffs or applications therein. I’m talking about the claims the minister made in the papers.

Last week, the minister claimed in this House as well that 911 services have been tested in all Yukon communities. A letter from the CRTC dated March 24, 2014 flat out contradicts the minister’s statement. It says the system the minister is testing is not even considered 911.

In order for CRTC to consider something 911, there must be a verbal exchange of information. The system the minister did test in all Yukon communities does not include this essential exchange. Once again to the minister: Why did he say that 911 had been tested in all Yukon communities when the CRTC had already told him that the system that he was testing did not qualify as 911?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      Again, the member is, quite simply, wrong. As I noted in the interview to the paper and I have indicated in the House, what we put in place is a system that staff dubbed a 911 autoselect option which allowed people dialing 911 in a community, upon reaching the service, to press “1” for police, “2” for fire, and “3” for ambulance.

We refer to this as an “interim” option while we continue to work with the various stakeholders involved on considering the possibility of 911dispatch, recognizing — I know the member hears from certain stakeholders in his riding whose views we appreciate — that they want a 911dispatch system. We’ve also heard from others, including, specifically, Yukon municipalities — which clearly the members are not interested in — that are concerned about moving to a dispatch system and feel that it would in fact increase response times.

What we began with initially was looking at the option of a recording in Yukon communities that would advise people who didn’t know they should be dialing the seven-digit number in those communities upon reaching 911. They would receive a list of the numbers for that area, but through work of staff with Northwestel, that evolved into a system that has been tested, that would allow Yukoners to press “1”, “2” or “3” in Yukon communities outside of Whitehorse while the larger project is worked on.

Mr. Silver:   I have been asking this government to bring forth Yukon-wide 911 services for 2.5 years now. It is clear that is not a priority for this government, or we would have had it in place by now. This attempt at stating that Yukon-wide 911 could come soon for all Yukon communities is quite premature, and it might have repercussions on the safety of the public in that they would be under the impression that there was a full-fledged 911 service in place when we know that that is simply not the case.

Is the minister committed to setting aside the funding necessary, including a project manager, so that residents and visitors to the Yukon can benefit from this life-saving system that the majority of North America , including Whitehorse, already has in place?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      What we see is the continued mischaracterization of the facts by the Leader of the Liberal Party. I’m happy to provide all of the media and all Yukoners with copies of the correspondence so that they can see what the facts actually are.

What we have indicated, including through the letters from the assistant deputy minister to the CRTC — note the fact that we have put in place this interim system, which has been beta tested in Yukon communities outside of Whitehorse — I should note that it is with the exception of Old Crow because of the difference of that satellite-switching system. The system has been tested. It would allow Yukoners who dial 911 in those areas to press 1, 2 or 3 for the services that they need. While this is an interim step, it is certainly better than someone dialling 911 and not getting anywhere.

The dispatch option proposed by the Member for Klondike — we’ve heard specific concerns from municipalities about that proposal. Unlike the Member for Klondike and unlike the Liberal Party, we are listening to Yukon communities and we will work with all of our stakeholders on this project.

But 911 autoselect, as it has been referred to, has been tested. It does work. We are working with Northwestel on seeking CRTC approval to put that in full operation.