Knife Attacks in Saskatchewan: Breaking Down the Use of Emergency Alert Systems


As the investigation into the mass stabbings of the Cree Nation of James Smith and Weldon, Saskatchewan continues, emergency alerts buzzing on residents’ devices continue.

Since Sunday, a dozen emergency alerts have been issued.

Bruce Pitt-Payne, a retired RCMP officer who served for more than 25 years, says the alerts are justified and, in fact, when done correctly, « extremely helpful. »

“But you’ll notice I said when it’s done right. And in that sense, it did not incite panic. It was enough information at the right time to alert people that there was danger out there,” Pitt-Payne told Global News.

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While the system becomes a useful resource for alerting the public, Pitt-Payne said it can also become useful information so the wanted suspect doesn’t get caught.

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“It may seem counterproductive. This may have prevented the suspect, in this case, from choosing to run too far and remain in the open.

Tim Trytten, the former team leader of Alberta’s emergency management system, explained to Global News the purpose of issuing an alert and the criteria that emergency alerts must meet.

“Emergency alerts are different from communications. They are a short and precise message to the public, informing him of a clear and imminent, unexpected danger, from which he can take protective measures,Tryten said. “And there must be instructions that we can give to the public to ensure their safety.”

« An alert without instructions is simply an invitation to all sorts of other problems. »

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But not all of the recent alerts were related to the mass stabbings.

While the majority of the alerts were linked to the manhunt for Myles Sanderson, a suspect wanted in the investigation, a series of alerts were actually linked to two different police reports of shootings.

On Monday, alerts were issued by Spiritwood RCMP for reports of shots being fired at Witchekan Lake First Nation.

On Tuesday an alert was issued by Maidstone RCMP for reports of shots being fired in Brittania.

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“It’s not necessarily something that the police control. But if you have too much, I think people will see it as a crying wolf,” Pitt-Payne said.

However, the former officer concludes that prevention is better than cure: « If it turns out that we were not careful and someone died? »

« So I think we’re going to see more and more of that. And I think in fairness to the police, it’s new and they’re going to have to learn too. It is not necessarily a failure. It can be learnt. »

Trytten echoed Pitt-Payne’s sentiment.

« You can always say, I’m sorry things didn’t go as badly as I thought in real time. But there’s never any reason to say I knew about it, but I didn’t nothing said as an alert issuer.

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Pitt-Payne said using mass communications will be a learning curve for police forces and other organizations that choose to use the emergency alert system. He compared RCMP communications in Saskatchewan to RCMP communications in Nova Scotia during the 2020 mass shooting in Portapique.

« Since Portapique, the RCMP has been heavily criticized for not issuing an alert and saying it allowed the situation to escalate, » Pitt-Payne said.

Trytten said that should be an indication of how important this system is.

« People come to rely on it as an early indication that a situation is developing, » he said. « That kind of public trust is something we have to work hard as whistleblowers to maintain because people rely on it. »

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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