Here's why you get Amber Alerts for some incidents, but not for others

Aug 3 2022, 4:02 pm

Editor’s note: This article mentions and discusses child abduction and death.

Canada isn’t the only country to have Amber Alerts. The emergency broadcast system is used in many European and Asian countries, as well as in the US, where it originated.

On January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Rene Hagerman was abducted in Arlington, Texas. Her lifeless body was recovered just two days later.

Investigators determined Amber was murdered.

amber alerts

Amber Rene Hagerman (Creative Commons)

The brutal killing of Amber shook the nation, and led to the development of an eponymous alert system created to quicken the process of locating missing children who could be at risk of being harmed, or worse, killed.

According to, the system was initially a joint effort between law enforcement agencies and media broadcasters, and used to alert the public, in case someone had seen something and could help recover the child in question.

A backronym was later created for the “AMBER” Alert system — America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The Alert was adopted worldwide, sometimes under more regionally relevant names.

In Canada, Amber Alerts are used quite often to facilitate police investigations, and while there’s a national set of criteria to warrant one, factors behind it can vary provincially and depend on decisions made by local Amber Alert committees. That said, only law enforcement can issue such an alert.

Community members may be alerted through their mobile phone, TV, radio, and even social media apps, such as Facebook. They’re also coming to Instagram soon.

Here are the basic requirements to issue an Amber Alert, according to

  • The child is under the age of 18.
  • A belief that the child has been abducted.
  • A belief that the child is in grave danger.
  • Information is available that may help locate the child and/or the abductor (e.g., description of the child, the suspect, or the vehicle driven by the abductor).
  • That the alert be issued within a reasonable amount of time from the moment of the abduction.

Here are the mandatory conditions that must be met in major Canadian provinces to issue Amber Alerts, according to local law enforcement:


  1. Law enforcement agency believes a child under 18 years of age has been abducted.
  2. Law enforcement agency believes the child is in danger.
  3. There is descriptive information about one or more of the following:
    • Child
    • Abductor
    • Vehicle
  4. There is a belief that an immediate broadcast alert will help in locating the child.

British Columbia

  1. The victim is under the age of 18.
  2. Police have reasonable grounds to believe that the victim has been abducted.
  3. Police have reasonable grounds to believe the victim is in imminent danger.
  4. Police have obtained enough descriptive information about the victim, abductor and/or the vehicle involved.
  5. Police believe that the alert can be issued in a time frame that will provide a reasonable expectation that the child can be returned or the abductor apprehended.


  1. A child or an adult with a proven mental or physical disability has been abducted.
  2. The child or adult is in danger of serious harm or death.
  3. There’s enough descriptive information to enable the public to identify the:
    • Child or adult
    • Abductor, or
    • Mode of transportation
  4. There’s a reasonable expectation the abductee could be returned, or the abductor could be apprehended.


  1. The police force has reasonable grounds to believe that a child (someone under 18 years of age) has been abducted.
  2. The circumstances of the abduction indicate that the child is in danger of serious physical injury or death.
  3. The police force has sufficient descriptive information about one or more of the following elements to consider that the immediate broadcast of the alert will help in finding the child:
    • The child
    • The suspect
    • The means of transportation used

If you receive an Amber Alert, urges that you read it carefully, stay on the lookout for the child, the suspect, or the vehicle described, and call the police immediately if you see or hear anything relevant.

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