On his commute from Port Alberni to Sooke on Nov. 9, Denis Canuel called 911 to report a broken traffic light and the resulting backup along the Trans-Canada Highway through Duncan. Canuel said that he believed the traffic backlog would have impeded emergency vehicles from getting through, should the need have arisen.
Canuel couldn’t believe the reception he received from the call-taker on the other end of the line.
“I was chastised for using the 911 call ‘to complain about traffic’,” he said. “People will die due to delay to reach hospital. Before the fall of our civilization, there would have been a cop car there in five minutes to direct traffic.”
Not anymore, he said, adding these days police have strayed so far from using common sense that they can’t recognize an emergency when one is presented.
Canuel said he arrived at the north end of the Duncan corridor at 9 a.m. and came to a halt in his vehicle due to the traffic jam.
“It went all the way to the southern area of Duncan which means any emergency vehicle would have to detour and it would take an extra five or 10 minutes to get to the hospital,” he said. “It was a very simple phone call that I made that morning to inform the police that they need to send a car right away. Instead of doing that, they gave me a little lesson on only calling 9-1-1 in an emergency.”
Canuel said it was indeed an emergency and he can’t believe the police didn’t treat it as such.
“If Highway 1 is gridlocked for 20 minutes in the middle of Duncan, there is no bypass. It affects the whole island. It is an emergency. This should never have happened,” he said. “This is a broken society when things like that happen. What will happen when we have a big earthquake, what will we do in the next flood?”
Canuel said the light was out at the corner of the highway and Trunk Road, and at a complex intersection such as that, “the whole thing was paralyzed.”
After sitting in traffic for 20 minutes, Canuel made the phone call.
“It’s not me complaining about traffic. It’s a guy telling you all your emergency vehicles cannot proceed through your city. How come the cops in Canada are not willing to do that work? What can they be so busy with?”
Canuel said the dispatcher said police were busy with serious crime investigations.
“You cannot investigate serious crimes if your whole city is gridlocked for 20 minutes. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that this is priority one. It’s communication, then circulation before you can take any action on the ground,” he said. “If you can’t even communicate that there’s a problem and no one wants to hear it, then it makes the problem way worse.”
Canuel has lost all faith in the police system, saying people in positions of authority need to be held accountable and that’s what’s missing in today’s society in general.
“You can’t teach common sense,” he said. “All these people in positions of authority without the common sense and the integrity to do their job are literally putting us all at risk.”
So, who do you call when the traffic signal lights aren’t working?
Not 911, police confirm.
BC RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Alex Bérubé said a traffic control light outage or traffic jam is not a reason to use 911.
“People can usually call the police non-emergency line or the local municipality who can in turn notify the proper company,” he said. “911 should be only reserved for life or death emergencies.”
Duncan’s non-emergency line is 250-748-5522.
Bérubé noted that should the power to a traffic control light be cut, drivers are to “treat the intersection like a stop sign”.
The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure notes the proper protocol when a light has failed is to use the four-way stop procedure, with the first car arriving (and stopping) at the intersection going first.
“If two vehicles stop at the intersection at about the same time and are facing each other, the one making a left turn yields to the one going straight through. Otherwise, both vehicles proceed straight through at the same time. In all cases yield to pedestrians.”