Skip to content

FRPC asks CRTC to review its 10-year old approach to emergency messages*

In 2023 Canadians experienced the nation’s most destructive wildfire season ever, touching all parts of Canada and ‘consuming’ 16.5 million hectares of land, from coast to coast to coast. On May 6, 2024 the Prime Minister “convened the Incident Response Group with ministers and senior officials to discuss the 2024 wildfire season” and “Canada’s level of preparedness.”

Alerts distributed by broadcasters are a critical part of Canada’s National Public Alerting System known as “Alert Ready“. The CRTC first issued regulations requiring broadcasters to distribute emergency alerts about imminent, life-threatening events such as wildfires in 2014 – but has not reviewed the regulations’ impact since then. Meanwhile other types of emergencies are growing in terms of their scale and impact. In the ten years from 2000 to 2009 there were 49 injuries and deaths from shootings in Canada – in the decade that followed there were 226 injuries and deaths from shootings.

Despite ongoing monitoring by the CRTC since 2018, emergency alerts were not distributed by all broadcasters in 2021, 2022 and 2023 (see CRTC, Departmental Plan 2024-25, Table 3). The system that transmits alerts to broadcasters was hacked and unavailable for much of September 2023. FRPC’s review of the alerts distributed in 2023 found that while the alerts that broadcasters carry are all distributed by wireless service providers to cell phones, not all alerts sent to cellphones are distributed by broadcasters: it is unclear whether wireless-only alerts reach people who cannot afford, whose cellphone service is unavailable or who do not want wireless telephone service. Few may know that while the CRTC’s regulations mandate broadcast alerts about imminent loss of life they do not require alerts about serious and imminent threats to property – even though losses from cold snaps, hail, storms and flooding led to $2 billion worth of insurance costs in 2023.

Concerns about Canada’s Alert Ready emergency messaging system were raised by Public Safety Canada’s experts in 2022. The March 2023 Final Report of the Mass Casualty Commission’s inquiry into the Nova Scotia shooting deaths also called for a “fundamental review” of the system (page 199, Recommendation C.4). Public Safety Canada’s Emergency Management and Programs Branch now recognizes “a number of calls” to increase the effectiveness of the National Public Alerting System.

The Online Streaming Act that Parliament passed in April 2023 specifically empowers the CRTC to make regulations about “the carriage of emergency messages” (section 9.1(1)(l)). Yet neither the CRTC’s May 2023 nor its current, May 2024 Regulatory Plan to modernize Canada’s broadcasting system includes or proposes a public consultation about broadcast alerts and Canada’s National Public Alerting System. In fact the CRTC’s current plan to implement the Online Streaming Act has now dropped a previous consultation the Commission said it might hold in “Winter 2023-2024” on “protecting Canadian consumers” .

FRPC filed an application with the CRTC on 28 March 2024 asking that the Commission on behalf of the public interest begin to gather relevant evidence for a public hearing on Canada’s National Public Alerting System in early 2025. FRPC’s Part 1 Application 2024-0194-1 is available online, along with a news release and brief synopsis.

*Note – full disclosure – the original post’s heading referred incorrectly to 14-year old regulations (because, insufficient caffeine & too many times spent timing 2014 regulations)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *