Federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay has asked for a review of the search and rescue protocol that puts the responsibility on searchers to call the military back for help.

MacKay was responding to questions from reporters in Halifax Monday about the search for Labrador teen Burton Winters, who died recently near Makkovik.

The military has faced criticism over its role in the search.


Burton Winters, shown in a photo posted to a Facebook tribute page, died off the coast of Labrador. (CBC)

"This wasn’t a matter of the military not responding," MacKay said. "There is a protocol that was followed. Now that protocol, in fact, between RCMP, ground search, the province, and in this case the military, may have to be reviewed. And that’s what I have committed to Premier (Kathy) Dunderdale, is that we will look at improving this protocol, looking at perhaps the call-back procedure."

When the military was initially called the morning after Winters was reported missing, weather and then mechanical problems kept two Griffon helicopters in Goose Bay grounded. Civilian choppers joined the search.

Under the current protocol, the onus then reverts to the searchers to call the military a second time.

In the Winters case, that didn’t happen until more than 48 hours after the boy was reported missing.

Winters was found dead on the ice a day after that. He had walked 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile before succumbing.

MacKay said he spoke to Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale over the weekend, and pledged to look at search protocols "in terms of the onus being on the caller."

Premier's concerns

Dunderdale recently told CBC News she wants more answers about what happened in the Winters case.

"People in this province have an expectation and a right to these kind of services, and the way they were provided in this case was not satisfactory," the premier said.

In a press release issued Monday, Dunderdale said she told MacKay about the "serious concerns" the government and people of the province have in relation to Winters' death.

"I talked with him about the level of anger and grief being expressed, and understandably so, and reiterated why the need for answers are so important," Dunderdale noted.

The premier said she asked for a "re-examination of protocols," and was pleased when MacKay said such a review was necessary.

series of protests in St. John's and in several Labrador communities have called for improved military search and rescue services.