Every year, 911 operators across Canada receive scores of unnecessary calls. From fiery sunsets to overflowing toilets to Tinder match police checks, here are some of the worst offenders from 2022, along with a reminder: 911 should only be used for police, fire or medical emergencies, like when a crime is in progress, or when life, safety or property is in immediate danger.
For all other issues, like cats in trees, look up your local non-emergency phone numbers.
In 2022, a 911 caller sent emergency responders scrambling in Nova Scotia.
“A person dialed 911 to report a house fire but was only able to give a general area rather than an exact address because it was a distance away,” a Nova Scotia RCMP spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “The RCMP and Fire Department attended and made immediate patrols of the area to try and find the fire but were unable to locate it. A short time later the person called back to say that he was mistaken… it was just the sunset.”
In Ottawa, another caller sought help with their love life.
“A person called 911 requesting we ‘run’ and ‘look into’ the person they were thinking about dating after having met them on Tinder,” an Ottawa Police Service spokesperson told CTVNews.ca, referring to the online dating app. “They wanted to make sure that they didn’t have involvement with the police (NO this is NOT something the police do).”
The Edmonton Police Service reported 911 callers responding with “your mom” when asked if they were in need of police, fire or ambulance assistance. This year, another Edmonton caller “asked the 911 operator to come over for tea.”
Edmonton police reported several calls about cats in trees in 2022, as well as a call about a bird flying into someone’s house. Ottawa police curiously received a call about a bird stuck in a tree, and also one from a person complaining that “too many mosquitoes were coming from their neighbour’s backyard.”
According to Ottawa police, another caller “stated that her Amazon package for vitamin C for her hamster hadn’t arrived and she wanted police to track it.”
In Ottawa, police also reported that “a person called 911 during a tornado alert upset because it interrupted his TV show.”
As Canada’s East Coast was battered by Hurricane Fiona in September, someone in Nova Scotia called 911 “asking for the numbers for all the local hotels.”
“When advised this was not a 911 emergency, she said, ‘I know, but you were just my first choice,'” a Nova Scotia RCMP spokesperson said.
TROUBLE WITH HOME
Ottawa police received a call from someone whose friend locked their keys in their apartment. In Edmonton, 911 operators even got a call about an overflowing toilet.
Nova Scotia 911 operators were given a hard time for redirecting a man who was reporting that his home had been broken into, and his car had been stolen while he was away the previous week.
“The male was advised that unfortunately this was not a 911 emergency and he would need to call the non-emergency line for his local detachment,” Nova Scotia RCMP told CTVNews.ca. “The male got very upset and shouted ‘But it’s a Dodge CHARGER!'”
Ottawa 911 operators received a slew of calls from unhappy customers in 2022.
One involved a caller at a salon who was upset with how their hair colour had been done, and wanted the police to come and force the manager to give her a refund. Another called from Walmart after alleging the store wouldn’t honour the price on a tag.
Customers of Ottawa restaurants also called 911 to report chicken wings that should have been breaded, as well as trouble getting a voucher after a messed-up pizza order three days prior. A caller at a Tim Hortons location meanwhile complained that their bagel had been made wrong, and that the bad one had been tossed in the garbage.
In Nova Scotia, RCMP report that someone called 911 from a deactivated cell phone to get assistance with a SIM card that wasn’t working. When told that this was not a 911 emergency, they replied, “Well, it’s an emergency to me!”
Police are reminding everyone to only use 911 for legitimate emergencies, and to look up non-emergency police, medical and fire phone numbers in cases where there is no immediate risk or danger; a particularly important message in a year when Canadians from B.C. to Toronto reported wait times and difficulties trying to access 911 operators.
“The misuse of 911 pulls important resources away from those that desperately need emergency assistance,” Ottawa police told CTVNews.ca. “Minutes can make a difference in saving a life.”
“Frivolous or vexatious 911 calls tie up call takers and resources as police officers must be dispatched to all 911 calls to ensure that there are no issues related to safety,” Nova Scotia RCMP added. “This is a strain on the 911 system as a whole.”
“People should call police when they believe criminal activity has occurred.” Edmonton police explained. “Calling 911 is for emergencies where life, safety, or property is in immediate danger, or there is a crime in progress.”