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Ottawa residents calling 9-1-1 can now connect to other cities

The Sûreté du Québec’s (SQ) internet-based communications system went down at all 11 call centres from 10:02 a.m. to 10:52 a.m., affecting 911 calls that came in. (Source: Pexels) The Sûreté du Québec’s (SQ) internet-based communications system went down at all 11 call centres from 10:02 a.m. to 10:52 a.m., affecting 911 calls that came in. (Source: Pexels)
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The City of Ottawa says residents who dial 9-1-1 can now have their call transferred to emergency services in other cities.

Prior to this, dispatchers in Ottawa were unable to transfer 9-1-1 calls to other jurisdictions. Residents who wanted to report an emergency in another city would need to hang up and find the non-emergency number for the local police service they were trying to reach.

That was the experience of Ottawa resident Michael Wood, who spoke to the Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee in May, recounting the story of when he received worrying messages about a family member in Toronto.

"I could not call 9-1-1 here in Ottawa and be transferred to Toronto. When I called Toronto non-emergency because the system in 2023 does not allow for the call to be transferred, I was on hold for an hour-plus," he said at the time.

Wood said he has been meeting with provincial and municipal officials to update the system.

The City of Ottawa cited Wood's advocacy in a news release Wednesday.

"Thanks to the advocacy of one Ottawa resident, all residents now have a more efficient and streamlined way to request emergency help for friends, family or loved ones in other cities," Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said. "This is an example of how resident participation at City Hall can enhance service delivery."

Ottawa residents requesting an emergency service, such as a wellness check for someone living in another city, can now dial 9-1-1 and request to be connected to 9-1-1 services in that city. Officials remind residents that the use of this new inter-city 9-1-1 is for emergencies requiring immediate assistance when lives are at stake or when there is a threat to public safety.

Wood said he is thrilled to see the City of Ottawa take this step and he is hoping this will expand to more municipalities in Ontario.

Wood tells CTV News Ottawa he's not done yet. He plans to urge the federal government to expedite the "Next Generation 9-1-1" rollout to include text messages sooner.

"Let's say you have a woman in a domestic violence situation. She can't pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 but maybe she can text," he said. "If this was 1949, and they said it wouldn't be available until 1951, maybe I'd understand it, but it's 2023," he said.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has mandated 9-1-1 service providers to update their systems for modern communication methods, including text messages and the sending of photos and videos.

The Ottawa Police Service approved a plan in September to spend $551,000 on system upgrades to migrate to Next Generation 9-1-1. A presentation for the board said real-time texting is scheduled to be deployed in March 2025. 

The current intercity connectivity is a workaround using current technology that allows callers to connect with other jurisdictions until Next Generation 9-1-1, which will allow seamless transfers to other jurisdictions, is fully implemented.

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