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To allow a mental health hotline, Yellowknifers must dial 10 digits


Anyone in Yellowknife who doesn’t already dial 867 before local numbers must start doing so, a federal regulator says, to allow the introduction of a mental health hotline.

The 9-8-8 hotline will provide a number for people to call or text if they need help to deal with a mental health crisis, including suicide prevention, regulator the CRTC said on Wednesday.

Canada is copying the United States, which just launched its own 9-8-8 service, in part to ensure Canadians who had heard of the US service don’t end up bereft of help when trying to call the number themselves.

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However, a problem arises in the Northwest Territories as 988 is already a local exchange code in Yellowknife, where seven-digit dialling – in other words, dialling a local number without the area code – is still possible.

A resident trying to dial a local seven-digit number beginning 988 could inadvertently end up calling the new hotline. A similar problem exists in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador and northern Ontario.

As a result, the CRTC has instructed service providers – the likes of Northwestel – in those areas to enforce 10-digit dialling by May 31, 2023.

The change will eliminate the ability of Yellowknife residents to dial seven digits to reach local numbers.

The CRTC said dialling seven digits was “still the norm” in Yellowknife, though that may depend who you ask. (Newer residents who didn’t know dialling seven digits was possible may never have even attempted it. Toronto, for example, has had 10-digit dialling since 2001.)

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Once launched across Canada – which the CRTC said would happen on November 30, 2023 – 9-8-8 will be free of charge and will direct calls and texts to mental health crisis and suicide prevention services.

“The ability to text to 9-8-8 will ensure that people in crisis who are unable to safely call, or prefer texting, are able to obtain counselling,” the CRTC stated this week.

At the moment, the toll-free number 1-833-456-4566 exists for people experiencing mental health distress.

“A single, easy-to-remember point of contact will provide much-needed help to those in crisis and will be crucial to saving lives,” said Ian Scott, the CRTC’s chair and chief executive, in a statement.

“Although much work is left to be done to bring help to people who need it, we have set accelerated timelines to ensure that 9-8-8 is implemented as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

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