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The Rogers Communications building at 333 Bloor Street East in Toronto on March 15, 2021 March 15, 2021 (Melissa Tait / The Globe and Mail)Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Rogers Communications Inc. says it believes the massive system outage it suffered on Friday occurred after a maintenance update to its core network, but critics are unimpressed with the explanation after the telecom’s second major service interruption in two years.

In a statement released on Saturday, the company’s president and chief executive, Tony Staffieri, said the system failure led Rogers’ routers to malfunction. He added that the company’s systems are now “close to fully operational.”

The widespread outages left thousands of Rogers customers across the country without internet, wireless and home phone service. Many were unable to call 911 or make purchases with debit or credit cards. Hospitals, public transit, border crossings and countless other public and private services were disrupted.

“We know how much our customers rely on our networks and I sincerely apologize,” Mr. Staffieri said.

“We’re particularly troubled that some customers could not reach emergency services and we are addressing the issue as an urgent priority.”

Mr. Staffieri added that the company will complete a root-cause analysis to determine what exactly went wrong, and will make necessary changes to its network.

The Rogers system failure underscored how reliant businesses and people have become on internet and phone services. And it highlighted the company’s ubiquity in Canada at a time when it is attempting to convince federal regulators that its proposed $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. won’t harm consumers by reducing competition in the telecom industry.

John Lawford, the executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer advocacy organization, said a major outage should not have occurred as a result of routine maintenance.

“I’d expect a certain level of disaster control for routine maintenance such that you’re not putting the whole system in the firing line,” Mr. Lawford said, noting that Rogers had a similar Canada-wide outage in April 2021. At that time, only the company’s wireless customers were affected.

“I don’t think, having had something similar a year ago, that it’s acceptable to have an outage happen again at that scale.”

People across the country were demanding better reliability from Rogers, including Lara Morgan, who described a frantic scene when she tried to call 911 after her 15-year-old son was injured at a rugby game on Friday in Markham, Ont.

Ms. Morgan said on-site staff feared her son had suffered a spinal injury. She had to run around the field to find someone who had a non-Rogers phone so she could use it to call an ambulance.

But then she was told paramedic services were also affected by the outage, because their communication and tracking system relied on a Rogers connection. This meant dispatchers had to manually direct ambulances. She said she was left with no option but to wait at the side of a road, not knowing how long it would take for emergency responders to arrive, while on-site staff tried to keep her son’s head stable.

Ms. Morgan eventually learned her son had not suffered a spinal injury, but he was concussed. When they arrived at the hospital, she was unable to contact her husband and tell him where they were. He, too, had a Rogers cellphone.

“I’m super disappointed in Rogers … it was terrifying,” Ms. Morgan said.

Health care workers dealt with interruptions on the job. Among them was Andrew Shepherd, a registered nurse who works at a Quinte Health Care hospital near Hastings, Ont.

When one of Mr. Shepherd’s patients had a seizure early Friday morning, he tried to page a doctor. Because of the outage, there was no response. Luckily, he said, the patient’s seizure was mild. “What if something catastrophic happened and we weren’t able to get a hold of this physician?” he now wonders.

Hours later, he said, the hospital began using loudspeakers to page doctors.

At 7:30 p.m., when Mr. Shepherd came back to work for his night shift, he was called to the emergency department to attend to a patient who believed she was having a stroke. The patient told him she had come to the hospital more than four hours after she began experiencing symptoms – much longer than the recommended amount of time – because she couldn’t call 911.

“Thankfully she didn’t have a real stroke, it was more metabolic,” he said. “But if it was a real stroke and she had a clot in her brain ... whatever damage was done would have been permanent for the rest of her life, and that’s because she couldn’t get a hold of EMS.”

“This woman could have lost her life because the network was down.”

Businesses and governments across the country said their services were beginning to return to normal on Saturday. The Correctional Service of Canada said telecom services at several parole offices and an Ontario prison had been restored, while the city of Montreal said its 311 service was back up and running.

Multiple police forces said their 911 services, which had been knocked offline during the outage, were able to receive calls once again on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Humber River Hospital in Toronto said it was working on rescheduling all its virtual health care appointments that were cancelled on Friday.

The country’s entertainment industry was also affected. The Weeknd was forced to cancel his performance at the Rogers Centre in Toronto because of logistical issues related to the outage.

Helen Kondylis, 30, said she and a friend had waited through three years of pandemic-related delays and cancellations to see the Canadian musician perform, and had driven roughly six hours from her home in Mirabel, Que. to attend Friday’s show. But she found out on her way out of her hotel room that the concert had been cancelled yet again.

“We were fighting back tears,” Ms. Kondylis said. “We didn’t want to believe it.” To make matters worse, her own wireless service was affected by the outage.

Speaking on her once-again-functional cellphone while travelling back to Quebec on Saturday, Ms. Kondylis said she looks back on her trip as a “scary” and “very weird experience.”

“God forbid something happened, how were we going to reach anybody?” she said.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has made a formal request to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for a probe into the outage.

“Unless there’s some significant consumer push and continued media attention, my concern would be that it’ll be treated as a one-off event,” Mr. Lawford said.

He also called on the government to mandate better communication during major outages. He noted that Rogers said little about the cause of the outage on Friday and didn’t offer a timeline for repairs.

“You have to at least give some communication to the customers ... and there’s no rules around that right now,” he said.

Patricia Valladao, a spokesperson for the CRTC, said the telecom regulator is in contact with Rogers.

“Right now, our focus is on the outage and recovering from it. When it is over, we will take all necessary actions to examine what occurred and put in place the necessary measures to prevent it from happening again,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Rogers said it will be crediting customers for the outage, and that no action will be required to receive the credits.

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