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Amber Alert mobile system working despite glitches, but could be tweaked, experts say

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Some people received duplicate alerts on their mobile phones, some not until hours after the incident, and some as far away as Manitoba.

But despite those glitches, the Amber Alert sent out Thursday to locate a missing 11-year-old Brampton, Ont., girl shows the mobile emergency system seems to be doing what it was intended to do, experts say. 

Ontario Provincial Police issued the Amber Alert around 11 p.m. ET, searching for 41-year-old Roopesh Rajkumar and his daughter Riya. A motorist spotted the car described in the alert, and police were able to locate and arrest the man. The girl’s body was found about an hour later in his apartment.

Rajkumar was charged Friday with first-degree murder.

“This is exactly why it was designed, and someone who was somewhere at the right time, even at 11:00 [at night], was able to contribute,” said security expert Matthew Overton. “Unfortunately, the little girl was already dead.”

Overton said he has received several alerts since the CRTC made it mandatory last year for telecom companies to support Amber Alerts on their mobile phone networks.

“It certainly caught my attention, so it has done everything it wants to,” he said. “I think from that perspective it seems to be moderated pretty well. I’m not seeing a series of alerts [that] I’m wondering: ‘Why should I get that?'”

Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested on a highway about 130 kilometres north of Brampton, Ont., after an Amber Alert was issued late Thursday. His daughter, Riya, was found dead in his basement apartment shortly before his arrest. (Facebook)

Peel Regional Police said they received a series of emails and calls from people complaining about receiving the late-night alerts that were accompanied by a siren-like sound.

“I appreciate that a lot of people were sleeping, but the immediate need to locate the child outweighed the momentary inconvenience that some people encountered,” Const. Akhil Mooken said on Twitter. “Tragically this incident did not have the outcome we were all hoping for but the suspect was located as a direct result of a citizen receiving the alert and calling 911. The system works.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t technical glitches. In a statement, Pelmorex, the company that operates the alert system, acknowledged it received reports that some users received duplicate alerts, as well as some users outside the province, in neighbouring Manitoba, who received alerts.

Pelmorex spokesperson Yulia Balinova said in a statement that the company was reviewing those reports, but that initial checks indicated that devices set with a reminder feature on may cause the alert to repeat until it is acknowledged by the user.

The system also sends simultaneous alerts to multiple distributors. One of the simultaneous alerts remained “active” and resulted in some users receiving the message after the alert had been cancelled, she said.

‘Still some problems’

Overton said glitches like those will “carry on a for a while” and “obviously there’s still some problems.”

“But I think it’s going pretty well right now,” he said.

Since April 2018, the CRTC has required that all wireless service providers participate in the National Public Alerting System (NPAS) and distribute wireless public emergency messages warning of imminent safety threats such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats. 

Telecom companies wanted an opt-out option or the ability to disable the alarm for some types of alerts, but that was rejected by the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator.

Peel Regional Police Const. Danny Marttini responds to complaints prompted by a late-night Amber Alert. 0:27

The U.S. system classifies alerts at different levels, allowing people to opt out of receiving the less serious ones, according to Sunil Johal, policy director at the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto. Canada only pushes out alerts at one level — urgent — a policy officials may want to reconsider, he said.

Johal suggested Canada could geotarget  the alerts more effectively so that if, for example, something is happening in Toronto, people in Ottawa or Thunder Bay won’t necessarily get that same alert.  

Tweak the sounds

He said the goal should be finding that “perfect balance where we’re warning people but not inundating them with things they can’t do anything about.”

Overton said it may be possible to tweak the sounds of the alerts yet still allow them to catch the attention of people.

Still, the unnerving sound that frightened and annoyed some people — that, too, means the system is working.

“Because, in a little way, it’s supposed to be annoying to catch your attention to something around you that you may not be aware of.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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