Why the delay? Family of Burton Winters looks for promised inquiry

The family of a Labrador boy who died on the ice outside Makkovik in 2012 is wondering why the government has not lived up to an election promise to hold an inquiry into his death.

Lawyer for family says 2 years have passed since government promised to review death of 14-year-old

Burton Winters walked 19 kilometres from his snowmobile after it got stuck in ice and snow. An air search was not launched until two days after he was reported missing. (CBC )

The family of a Labrador boy who froze to death on the ice outside Makkovik in 2012 is wondering why the provincial government has not lived up to an election promise to hold an inquiry into his death.

Burton Winters was 14 when he died. His death focused attention on search and rescue efforts and raised questions about whether an earlier response could have saved his life.

Winters' body was found on sea ice three days after he went missing. He had walked 19 kilometres from his stuck snowmobile, which was located a day earlier.

Burton Winters's snowmobile was located on ice by searchers; the teen's body was found a 19-kilometre walk away. (RCMP)

While a massive ground search was launched immediately, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre waited two days to send air support, in part because of weather and mechanical problems, a decision then-premier Kathy Dunderdale called a "moral failure."

"Young Burton Winters was very clearly let down in the worst possible way by the system, and we cannot stand by and continue to let him down," said Tom Williams, lawyer for the Winters family.

"The time is long past for giving this family the answers they deserve," Williams wrote in a letter Thursday to Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.

'Bureaucratic blizzard'

He told CBC News that with recent discussions of other inquiries by government, he doesn't want the Winters case lost in a "bureaucratic blizzard."

"Events of the last week or so have concerned the family with respect to where the inquiry lies. Government made a commitment to hold this inquiry back in December of 2015," said Williams.

"But this week we're hearing talk of the Muskrat Falls inquiry, as well as the Innu children. Both these causes may well warrant inquiries, but this matter is dragging on now six years, and it's time that the minister called the inquiry."

Communities along the coast of Labrador held vigils for Burton Winters, and both the provincial and federal governments were criticized for search and rescue efforts. (Debbie Ward and Kirk Mcneil)

Williams pointed to the Dunphy Inquiry, which was completed within two years of the St. Mary's Bay man's shooting death, to show how the situation has dragged on. 

"Delaying this further only adds to the pain and suffering of the Winters family," Williams wrote.

"The family is urging Minister Parsons and Premier Ball to do the right thing and call this inquiry immediately, so that they might finally have some peace."

Inquiry 'will happen'

Parsons said he has yet to receive the letter, but remains committed to the inquiry and is willing to speak with the Winters family.

He said the Canadian Senate is still reviewing search and rescue operations across the country, and a new inquiry would require federal cooperation.

"My fear is that going right into an inquiry now without having seen what the Senate finds may lead to some redundancies," he said.

"I don't know if there's a need to expend twice the resources to find the same answers."

I know the family wants it, we've committed to that, that commitment has not changed.- Andrew Parsons

Parsons said he expects the Senate report within the next couple of months, and once it is received, the terms of reference can be finalized on an inquiry into the Winters case.

"I know that the family wants it. We've committed to that, that commitment has not changed. It's something we called for before we got into government, it's something that we've called for since we've got into government, and it's something that will happen."