Countrywide Rogers outage reverberates in Kahnawake

·4 min read

Christine Montour was on her way to Ottawa with two children for her son’s lacrosse tournament, but she didn’t have Waze or Google Maps to help guide her to the Lois Kemp Arena.

She couldn’t call for help, either - none of her three Fido lines were working at all.

“Travelling blind with two kids and no phone - it wasn’t a safe feeling, that’s for sure,” said Montour.

About halfway to Ottawa, she stopped at a Canadian Tire to buy a GPS system, but the debit machines weren’t working, and she didn’t have enough cash to cover the purchase.

One of the store’s workers was kind enough to pull up the directions on their phone, so Montour could take a picture. She stopped at gas stations the rest of the journey to make sure they were on track.

“Old-fashioned way - stop and ask,” she said. “I’m glad we left early!”

Fido is part of the Rogers network, which suffered a Canada-wide outage on July 8. Not only did this mean calls, texts, and data were unavailable on Canada’s largest cellular network, but services that rely on it, such as Interac debit and e-transfers, were also offline.

For some Kahnawa’kehró:non, the story is also about what didn’t happen.

“I had a heart attack two years ago and had two stents put in my arteries. I was at Anna Laberge Hospital. If I would have needed EMTs’ help, I wouldn’t have been able to call anywhere,” said Laura McComber, who uses Rogers-owned Chatr.

The Kahnawake Fire Brigade itself relies on the Rogers network for certain activities.

One of the most important uses of data for the department is for heart attack response. Data from its defibrillator is sent via telemetry to the hospital, so doctors can provide a diagnosis prior to transport and determine to which hospital a patient should be taken.

“That’s specifically what that telemetry is for, in the interest of time,” said KFB captain Wihse Stacey.

To Stacey’s knowledge, the defibrillator was not needed that day, but it is used two or three times a month. Had it been needed, a quick first responder might have transmitted the data using their cell phone - if they were not with Rogers.

The department’s emergency response vehicles, including fire engines and ambulances, have tablets installed for emergency location mapping. These, too, were also offline. While first responders can use their personal phones for this purpose, those on the Rogers network would have been unable.

Similarly, the Who’s Responding app used to help manage emergency response depends on first responders’ personal cell phones. They also carry pagers that use radio frequencies for the same purpose, but these sometimes have issues as well.

“You can’t rely on one plan,” said Stacey. “You can’t rely on one piece of equipment. We understand that things break, and that’s pretty much the majority of what our careers are based on: things are going to happen that people can’t control.”

Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre did not have any significant issues during the outage.

The Kahnawake Peacekeepers were not significantly impacted either internally, according to dispatcher Heath Latour, but the incident likely prevented people from calling; the department can field up to 100 calls per day.

While the most dire possible consequences may have been avoided, there was a definite economic impact on the community due to the outage.

“We lost a lot of business because everyone does everything over their phone and their cards,” said Sharon MacDonald, a cashier at OCR Necessities.

“It affected everyone. We lost a lot of money.”

The situation did not make a big difference for MacDonald personally, however. “I don’t have a phone, and I deal mostly with cash, so I was okay.”

A day before the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow, some businesses were insulated from feeling the effects.

“Our store was actually not really impacted because we were closed that day because of pow-wow prep,” said Kiarah Rice, a barista at Tóta Ma’s Café. By the time the powwow started on Saturday, the café was able to accept debit again.

Mandie Montour, general manager of the Caisse Populaire Kahnawake, explained that it was the Interac network that was affected, not the financial institutions themselves. Kahnawa’kehró:non who don’t keep a rainy day fund under their mattress were still able to withdraw cash from the institution’s ATMs or counter.

“Later in the afternoon, the only thing we were instructed is that they were going to make sure that we had enough money in our ATMs because a lot of people were getting cash because they couldn’t use their debit cards,” she said.

The day was a holiday for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) and its units, meaning the outage did not affect day-to-day operations at Council.

“Timing is everything!” said MCK spokesperson David Lahache.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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