By ROSALYN ROY
PORT AUX BASQUES – The RCMP and the Fire Department continue to deal with the ongoing rash of prank calls. The calls began over the summer but slacked off in the fall before resuming on Dec. 20. Within a three day span, the Fire Department received a total of nine prank calls, prompting a strategy meeting by first responders.
“I have met with the RCMP and a Bell Aliant representative,” confirmed Fire Chief Jerry Musseau via e-mail. “This is being investigated.”
Musseau declined to go into detail while the RCMP attempts to track down the prankster, but did write that, “I have another option in mind that I can temporarily use to deal with these calls should this continue, however I am hoping the RCMP can get to the bottom of this soon.”
Prank calls to emergency services, also called swatting, largely gained traction in the 1970s with calls to airlines and schools about bomb threats. With the growth of the internet and easy access to online tools to disguise a caller’s information and location, swatting has become increasingly sophisticated.
But what was once considered a harmless prank has become enough of a threat that in the United States advocates are calling for it to be treated as terrorism due to its intimidation factor that has led to injury or death.
In California, swatters are liable for all damages related to a hoax call, plus fines of up to $10,000. A swatter was sentenced in March 2019 to 20 years imprisonment after his hoax call led to someone’s death.
Canada has also been tracking and charging swatters. In 2014, four teens from Ontario, Québec and British Columbia were charged with public mischief and even extortion after hoax calling emergency services across North America.
Public mischief may sound harmless, but it carries with it a very real prison sentence of up to five years.
Calling a fire department to a false scene that consequently delays a response to an actual emergency may cost big money, not just freedom. Insurance companies can sue hoaxsters to recover damages the insurer has been obligated to pay out after emergency responders have breached entry because of a prank call.
Psychologists have listed numerous causes for prank calls, from peer pressure to boredom to underlying socio-pathology or mental disorders. Whatever the reason, it’s hardly a joke to the firefighters says Musseau.
“The hoax is not only a nuisance, but is also dangerous. I recommend all parents talk to all members of their household to emphasize the seriousness of these prank calls made to the Fire Department. I just hope that we are not responding to a prank call and a real emergency occurs.”