Nfld. & Labrador

Overdue Senate report means another delay in the Burton Winters inquiry

The inquiry into the death of Burton Winters is being pushed back again, two years after it was first promised.

The 14-year-old froze to death nearly six years ago

Burton Winters was last seen in the coastal Labrador community of Makkovik at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2012. His body was found on Feb. 1. (Submitted by the Winters family)

The inquiry into the death of Burton Winters is being pushed back again, two years after it was first promised.

Winters was just 14 years old when he froze to death on the sea ice outside Makkovik.

His snowmobile became stuck and he was by himself. There was a ground search, but it was two days before Canadian Forces search and rescue aircraft were brought in to look for him overhead.

The boy's body was recovered three days after he first went missing.

Waiting on the Senate

Two months ago, when pressured to proceed with the inquiry, the province said it wanted to see findings from the Senate's search and rescue study first.

That report was due out Thursday but the Fisheries and Oceans committee behind it was given a seven-month extension this week.

Burton Winters' abandoned snowmobile photographed from a helicopter over the sea ice outside Makkovik, Labrador. He started to walk once the machine became stuck.

"We certainly feel that it's better for us to wait and see what they come up with rather than, perhaps, spend time and resources coming up with a duplication," said provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.

The family's lawyer doesn't feel the province should wait any longer.

"When you allow this much time to go between the date in which the event occurred and when the ultimate inquiry [happens], memories fail," said lawyer Tom Williams.

"So you wonder then and question as to the accuracy of the information and the recollection of memories in respects to details."

Other inquiries 

The Winters inquiry was promised along with the inquiry into the shooting of Don Dunphy and the cancelled contract involving Humber Valley Paving.

In recent months, the province has agreed to two more — Muskrat Falls and the treatment of Innu children in care.

...This can not be too big a priority for the current government.- Tom Williams

"You don't need to be close to the file to recognize that this can not be too big a priority for the current government," Williams said.

The Winters family has their hopes inflated each time the federal or provincial government makes promises, Williams said, but it is dashed with news of postponements, delays and other priorities.

Parsons had at first said inquiries wouldn't be able to run simultaneously because of the amount of resources they take.

"But given the timelines here, we may have to reconsider that," he said.

He insists the Winters inquiry will happen, but won't commit to a start date.

"I think, at the end of the day, the family wants answers, as do we," said Parsons.

"We'd like to have [answers] right now, but given everything that's going on, I just think that this the best approach to take."

Newfoundland and Labrador Sen. Fabian Manning, the head of the committee completing the Senate's search and rescue study, was not available for comment.

With files from Mike Rossiter