Federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay is defending search and rescue officials who’ve come under fire after a photograph of military squadron members fishing in remote Labrador lake was made public.
"They weren't on a fishing trip," said MacKay, speaking at a Conservative Party Atlantic caucus meeting in Happy Valley–Goose Bay, Labrador, on Monday.
"They were there working and during that time there was fishing, but let's be clear that wasn't the intent, that wasn't why they were there. They were there on a particular mission."
In a written statement in July, the Department of National Defence told CBC News the helicopter was from 444 Squadron at CFB 5 Wing Goose Bay.
Capt. Dave Bowen said the June 8 trip to No Name Lake was a "familiarization/readiness flight" on a CH-146 Griffon helicopter.
"This trip was approved by the commanding officer of 444 Combat Support Squadron as an extraordinary measure to recognize the effort of the ground crews in completing essential maintenance and detailed inspection of one of the aircraft returning to Goose Bay from a deployment in Jamaica," Bowen wrote in an e-mail to CBC News.
The mission to Jamaica ended last fall.
MacKay has been criticized for using a search and rescue helicopter in 2010 to transport him from a Gander River fishing trip to the Gander International Airport in central Newfoundland.
MacKay’s comments come weeks after Labrador MP and federal cabinet minister Peter Penashue said he's disappointed that the Department of National Defence permitted a military helicopter to be used for a fishing trip in Labrador.
"I think that it sends the wrong message," said Penashue in July. "But at the same time I recognize that we hadn't put anyone at risk.
"It doesn't help the image, particularly with what we just went through with search and rescue on Labrador."
Penashue was referring to a failed search and rescue effort for 14-year-old Burton Winter.
Winter was found dead on the sea ice near his hometown of Makovik Labrador on Feb.1, days after he was reported missing.
The ground search was the provincial government’s responsibility, but critics suggested the federal search and rescue service – which is responsible for search and rescue at sea – didn’t do enough to help.