Labrador MP Peter Penashue triggered an angry reaction at a vigil in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Thursday night when he refused to discuss the quality of search and rescue.
"If anything else, Burton has taught us about family," Penashue told several hundred people who turned out for the latest in a series of vigils for Makkovik teenager Burton Winters, whose frozen body was found outside his community after his snowmobile broke down.
Many people in Labrador believe the Winters case — in which military search and rescue did not join the search for the 14-year-old for two days — underscores the need for a dedicated SAR presence in the region.
But Penashue, who is Newfoundland and Labrador's federal cabinet representative, did not discuss search and rescue during his remarks — a decision that clearly angered some of those in the crowd.
"You're an asshole," an audience member yelled at Penashue. Boos could be heard from the crowd.
"We wanted to hear that he was going to do something, to give us search and rescue, that he was going to work on our behalf," resident Pamela Knight told CBC News.
"We didn't get that. He didn't even mention it. That's despicable."
Penashue dismissed the criticism, telling CBC News that it would not have been appropriate to discuss SAR services during his remarks.
"I'm here to support the family, like everybody else," Penashue said.
"It's not supposed to be a political rally. That wasn't my place."
Winters was found on Feb. 1, three days after his family reported him missing. He was last seen after he dropped off a cousin by snowmobile at the house of his grandmother. People in Makkovik believe the boy missed a turn on a snowmobile trail, and wound up driving toward ice by the coastline.
RCMP say Winters walked for about 19 kilometres, generally following the path of the coastline. His body was found about 11 kilometres outside the community.
Military officials said that a combination of factors — including adverse weather and the fact that a private helicopter had joined the effort — played into the decision not to send a helicopter in the early stage of the search.
Penashue said he is waiting on results of a review into certain SAR procedures.