A young, vulnerable man died a preventable death, in West Kelowna, said his sister Aleesha Wood.
A silent protest in memory of James Wood is being held on April 16th at 6 p.m. in Stuart Park to raise awareness for protocols around missing vulnerable people. Aleesha, who lives in Williams Lake, is planning the protest.
She is advocating for the implementation of an alert system similar to an Amber Alert, or the U.S.-based Silver Alert, to be used for missing people with cognitive disabilities who are unable to care for themselves.
She will have a petition available for the public to sign at the protest to urge policymakers to consider the vulnerable alert system.
Aleesha met with West Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart on April 11 and said that he will present the petition to legislation when she has collected enough signatures.
She said that Stewart has advised her to write a letter to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
“He told me James’ case is not an isolated case,” said Aleesha. “They get hundreds of emails and calls revolving around mental health each week.”
The Ministry of Health stated it is investigating whether Silver Alerts for missing vulnerable people with cognitive disabilities or decline, including but not limited to people with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, Down syndrome and autism, is the right tool for B.C.
The ministry said police have noted that “sending silver alerts through the broadcast intrusive alerting system may not be appropriate as the public could become desensitized to the alerts.”
Emergency Management BC said that “local police have primary responsibility for locating missing individuals. Currently, these agencies use localized channels, including social and traditional media, to advise and seek help from the public when searching for missing individuals.”
The ministry added that when seniors with cognitive impairments wander and become lost, it is not typically far from their home – therefore the work of local authorities, as well as the use of local media and social media, often achieves rapid and positive results.”
Currently, Amber Alert is the only type of missing person event that is approved for use of a Broadcast Intrusive (BI) alert, said Emergency Management.
Aleesha believes that her brother could have been found if a Broadcast Intrusive alert was sent out, using the same system as an Amber Alert.
When her brother wandered off on Nov. 8, 2021, a missing person report was not released by RCMP for 24 hours. When the report was released, a local couple called Crimestoppers and said they had seen James walking on Smith Creek Road the day before.
Aleesha said that if a BI alert was enacted immediately after his disappearance and information was properly relayed, it is likely that her brother would still be alive today.
She said that if the couple knew James was vulnerable and missing they could have immediately called the police or the tip line, rather than waiting a full day for a missing person report to be released.
The information about her brother’s whereabouts was not relayed to the family or the public and local search and rescue groups searched the area to no avail.
Months later, a local hiking group saw the tip that James was last seen on Smith Creek Rd. Aleesha said they immediately organized a search and shortly after beginning, discovered James’ remains close to the road.
By the time his body was discovered, there were only bones remaining and an autopsy could not be performed.
Aleesha hopes to finish the petition and letters to the Ministry of Health and Addictions by mid-May. She also hopes to have enough public interest to form a coalition to advocate for change.