Federal minister joins call for Labrador search review

Newfoundland and Labrador's politicians are adding their voices to the calls for a review of search and rescue procedures, following the death of a 14-year-old boy near Makkovik last week.

N.L. premier also she says she wants answers to 'a number of questions'

Burton Winters, 14, died last week off the coast of Labrador. (CBC)

Some of Newfoundland and Labrador's politicians are adding their voices to calls for a review of search and rescue procedures, following the death of a 14-year-old boy near Makkovik last week.

Labrador MP Peter Penashue — the province's only Conservative MP, and sole federal cabinet representative — said Friday he will push the federal defence minister to order a review of every aspect of search and rescue.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue is joining calls for further review of search and rescue services.

"My view is that we need to take a look at all of the elements that are involved in search and rescue," said Penashue, the minister for Newfoundland and Labrador. "Right from ground search and rescue, the RCMP, the province, the national defence, all the different elements that are involved in the search and rescue."

About 100 protesters gathered outside Penashue's constituency office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Friday.

After meeting with the protesters, Penashue was asked by CBC News if he thought mistakes were made in this search by either the RCMP or the military.

"Everyone will have to come up with their own conclusions," he said. "You need to read the report and other people need to read the report and come up with their own conclusions. But what you'll find is we need a better process, we need to improve the process."

"All of the pieces need to come together" for such searches, he said, and highlighted the availability of helicopters as an issue.

"I think there's lots of room for improvement," Penashue said. 

Penashue's comments come as Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale expressed her own displeasure with the search. Dunderdale is calling for a review of the military's role. 

"There are a number of questions that I don’t believe we have had satisfactory answers to. The family needs them, the community needs them and the people of this province need them," Kathy Dunderdale told the CBC News show On Point.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale says there are unanswered questions in the Burton Winters case. (CBC)

Burton Winters was reported missing from Makkovik, on Labrador's northern coast, on Jan. 29 and found three days later.

Department of National Defence officials were in the province on Feb. 8 to explain the military's part in the search, but Dunderdale is calling for more answers about what happened.

"I’ve asked my minister to go to the Department of National Defence and ask for more information," she said.

Military aircraft didn’t respond until two days after Winters was reported missing to police. A helicopter was never sent from the military’s base in central Newfoundland, after it was discovered neither of the military’s Labrador-based Griffon helicopters was able to help initially on Jan. 30.

Dunderdale said the military may have had good reasons for not sending a Cormorant search and rescue helicopter from Gander, N.L., to Makkovik, but they haven't made them clear.

"Why not? That’s the question we need answered. There may have been very sound reasons for not doing that, but we don’t know what they are and we need to know what they are," she said.

Search services 'not satisfactory'

Dunderdale also said she doesn't understand why a commercial helicopter was able to help with the search at a time when the military said its helicopters were grounded by weather.

"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," said Dunderdale.

Winters was found dead on the sea ice after walking 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile. Police reported he had signs of hypothermia and he was found with his jacket removed.

Dunderdale reached out to his family members, who have also criticized the military's response.

"We can only imagine their grief and sorrow …and we all feel it and we also understand that they are very angry and we understand that as well," she said.

On Thursday, protesters gathered in some Labrador communities and St. John's to call for better military search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dunderdale said she will "absolutely" raise her concerns about the services in future meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.