The Newfoundland and Labrador government is increasing pressure on its federal counterpart for better search and rescue resources in Labrador.
In a press release Wednesday, the province called on the federal government to take “immediate action” to improve federal search and rescue operations in Grande Terre.
Labrador Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster said Friday the statement relates to the follow-up to 17 recommendations made by the provincial public inquiry into ground search and rescue operations, in its report released in November 2021.
“This statement puts pressure on the federal government to come forward and close some of the gaps that were identified in the investigation that just concluded,” Dempster said.
“We have about 9,000 kilometers of coastline on the island, for example, and we have over 17,000 kilometers of coastline around Labrador and we don’t have any Labrador-based resources.”
Dempster is leading a group of provincial ministers and Labrador leaders to Ottawa in February to meet with federal ministers about the province’s search and rescue concerns.
Discussions have already taken place with federal members regarding operational issues on the Labrador coast and the need to establish air and sea resources for the region. The report recommends that federal government helicopter resources be made available to support ground search and rescue operations with equal priority to their support for air and maritime search and rescue operations.
Another recommendation is that the province commit air assets to fill the gap.
“We’re all too familiar in Labrador with the loss of life, the grief that comes with it,” said Dempster, pointing to Burton Winters, a 14-year-old boy who froze to death in 2012 after getting lost on a snowmobile. the fishing vessel Island Lady, which disappeared off Mary’s Harbor – coincidentally, while the search and rescue investigation was underway.
“We have momentum and we won’t give up this time.”
The province also allocated approximately $1.8 million in this year’s budget to increase funding for the provincial search and rescue association.
Added to team
The Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation ground search and rescue team joined the provincial umbrella association this year, on the condition that they can get to work without waiting for a call from the RCMP.
Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association teams do not self-deploy. Rather, they are deployed by a competent police service.
“The agreement we have with the provincial SAR is that we don’t have to wait for calls, especially when a new person is lost or in distress,” said Jack Andrew, team coordinator for Sheshatshiu Ground Search and Rescue.
“When we get a distress call from them, we just have to call the RCMP and let them know where we’re going and how many people we’re taking.”
Six of Andrew’s 30 team members have since been nationally and provincially certified. Thirteen others are waiting for training while the group raises the necessary funds.
By joining the association, the Sheshatshiu team also gets insurance, which Andrew said is important for his colleagues.
“We didn’t have insurance at the start and took a lot of risk,” he said.
“There are a lot of risks for our group but now we have insurance and everyone is covered.”