Uniting for Burton

Alicia Elson
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Protestors gather to bring concerns to elected representatives

Last Friday Minister Peter Penashue met with some 100 protesters who lobbied outside of the Minister’s office in Happy Valley Goose Bay. They were all there in support of 14-year-old Burton Winters who went missing from the community on Jan. 29 and was later found dead on the sea ice 19 km from his snowmobile, off the coast of Makkovik.

The HVGB protest was organized by local residents Kirk Lethbridge and Roxanne Dyson.

“We wanted people of Labrador to come together so we can ensure that something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s child,” said Ms. Dyson.

“We feel that whenever something tragic occurs then we get wind of all the government’s so-called protocols and it’s just not enough for us. We’re hoping we can make a difference.”

“I think it’s time for them to apologize to the family instead of making up all these excuses. The friends and families of Burton Winters are going through a really difficult time right now and they don’t need to hear any more excuses of why search and rescue didn’t come to save him.”

In the days following the tragic incident, information surrounding DND’s response to the calls for search and rescue to the area resulted in a national public outcry from family, friends and supporters wanting to know why the Canadian Forces did not send a SAR team until 48 hours after the boy was reported missing.

On Feb 8, DND brass explained that a number of issues impacted the coordination of SAR services delay of CF SAR aircraft out of Goose Bay to join the search. An analysis of the report outlined mechanical issues, availability of primary SAR assets, and weather conditions in Makkovik as factors in the case. The report prepared by the Chief of Defense Staff also outlined standard operational protocol was followed in relation to the use of a “call-back” procedure put in place by the Joint Rescue Coordination Center stationed in Halifax, NS

This reports resulted in immediate response from the family and supporters of Burton Winters and also Government leaders, community interest groups and individuals from around Canada who felt that DND efforts fell short in providing search and rescue services to a missing child in Labrador. It also led to numerous protests being held throughout the province in support of the family of Burton Winter’s to see that a permanent search and rescue facility be stationed in Labrador.

Fiona Anderson, a former resident and teacher of Makkovik, who also attended the Feb 10  protest said she was there to support the voices of all of Labrador.

“Like everyone else I am outraged. I know there are rules and laws and protocols to follow but when a young life is in danger you got to put that aside, you’ve got to get out there and do what you can do. And if they were waiting for a call from the RCMP and it didn’t come they should have been calling back to find out what the situation was.

“There’s no way that this Government can let this continue it has to change. Look at all these people they are all voters.

It’s for equality it’s for decency and it’s for sensitivity, accountability and responsibility and we deserve it.”

In HVGB the message from the public was loud and clear; they wanted answers as to why DND services were not readily available in the search for Burton Winters and they requested the assistance from the MP for the district to bring the message to Ottawa.

 “There should be more done right now as it is. There is too much going on and it just seems like they are keeping it a secret, like talking their own way behind closed doors and they shouldn’t,” said Jerry Igloliorte.

About 10 minutes into the presentation Penashue stepped up to the microphone and expressed his concern for the loved ones of Burton Winters acknowledging the tragic incident. Pensahue then invited the public to meet with him to further express their concerns at a sit down meeting at the Labrador Friendship Centre.

Within minutes, the protesters moved down the street and into the Friendship Centre boardroom.

Penashue made it clear that he would not discuss specific details about the situation, saying answers the DND SAR response were contained in investigation report already completed ( The 20 page document that was prepared by DND on Feb7).

The 20 page document outlining a summarization on the time line and details on communication and between DND and the RCMP and Fire and Emergency Services, NL

However, about 20 protesters voiced their concerns over the way the search was handled, and the government protocol for dispatching rescue teams.

At the friendship centre concerned resident Jim Learning said SAR services in the 1960s were more adequately equipped and easily accessible in Labrador at one time. “Now we can’t get one for a little boy who is ten hours walking in the wrong direction.” Mr. Learning said with policy and feelings aside the incidence should not have happened and said the problem needs to be fixed.

 “I think we need search and rescue in Labrador that will service all of Labrador because what happened is unacceptable that the helicopter Cormorant couldn’t come from Gander because they might be needed in another part of the province is not acceptable, If we had search and rescue here we could respond faster. Seconds matter when people are in sub zero temperatures so it shouldn’t happen to anybody, “ stated Patricia Kenutsigak.

MHA Keith Russell told the crowd that as elected officials it is sometimes difficult to act instantaneously respond in particular situations when they arise. “Our roles in our governments are not all about jumping in the media and acting on pure emotion. We have a responsibility to our district and to our ridings which means that we have to be professional and we have to go through the right procedures and obey protocols.”

Russell went on to say that further reports and investigations into the matter need to be completed first before elected representatives can adequately address both the general public, media and the people in Ottawa. “It is what it is at the end of the day then it is up to us to address the people and to see how that went down, how everything went.” Then it’s up to us to come together and to work within our governments to say this cannot happen.”

The impromptu meeting dissolved about 40 minutes later. Before leaving, Penashue assured the crowd that he would agree to meet with the leaders in Ottawa to discuss the issues an to then once again hold a meeting with the people.

“I listened to the people at the rally, I invited people here to this meeting to hear their concerns and their issues and we documented everything,” Penashue told the Labradorian. “There were many different points being made and I listened and I am taking all of those issues and concerns and I will certainly have a meeting with Peter McKay to present these concerns and issues and to see how we can improve the SAR services for Labrador. As I said there is many different elements to the process and we need to take a look at that and see how we can all improve.”

Following the closing of the meeting Mr. Lethbridge told the Labradorian, “ I think that people power today put some pressure where it needs to be. I think that Minister Penashue and Keith Russell (MHA for Lake Melville) are both aware of what needs to be done and the ball is in their court now to push this issue to what we are looking for which is to have a search and rescue helicopter permanently stationed in Labrador.

“They know what we want and we’ve given them the leeway to do whatever it takes in a reasonable amount of time to come back to us and we will have another meeting at that time.”

Also last Friday, a Facebook group was created by the Labrador community urging residents in Newfoundland and Labrador to support a SAR Rescue centre in Labrador. “In honor of Burton Winter’s we are seeking to have this SAR centre named after Burton Winters. His determination, strength, and courage should never be forgotten again. “He walked this far.” The group has since grown to include over 20,000 members and people from all over the country have joined the effort. Individuals have posted poems, words of support, and have included a petition to the Federal Government to abstain from planned cutbacks and enhance SAR services in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organizations: Canadian Forces, RCMP, Defense Staff Joint Rescue Coordination Center Feb 10 Fire and Emergency Services Labradorian Federal Government

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Makkovik, Goose Bay Happy Valley Ottawa Halifax Canada Gander Lake Melville

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