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Family of Burton Winters happy inquiry finally moving ahead

The 2012 death of 14-year-old Burton Winters after he went snowmobiling near Makkovik was the catalyst for the inquiry into search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The 2012 death of 14-year-old Burton Winters after he went snowmobiling near Makkovik was the catalyst for the inquiry into search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador. - Contributed

The family of Burton Winters is happy the inquiry into ground search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador is finally moving ahead, the lawyer representing them said.

People have been calling for the inquiry since 2012 when 14-year-old Burton Winters died after going out snowmobiling near Makkovik. His snowmobile got stuck, and he walked 19 km before succumbing to the climate. Delays in the search for Winters prompted many questions about search and rescue in the province.

Tom Williams represents the Winters family and said he’s been speaking to them about the Jan. 14 announcement that the inquiry has been formally established.

“They’re pleased, they’re very pleased,” he told SaltWire. “This thing has been on and off and referenced over the last eight years. The need for an inquiry, whether they’re going to call an inquiry. Government had indicated they would, but it had never been a commitment. There was always one reason or another it was always being put off.”

When retired judge James Igloliorte was appointed to lead the inquiry last June, Williams said, the family was excited it was happening. Now, with it officially moving forward, they’re looking forward to the weekends and months ahead.

The inquiry, which will review all ground search and rescue in the province, will begin in Makkovik and members of the community will be given a chance to speak.

Barry Andersen, AngajukKâk (mayor) of Makkovik, was part of the search for Winters and is still involved in search and rescue in the community. He said he didn’t want to go into much detail about the inquiry, since he may be called to testify, but said he, like many in the coastal Labrador community, hope some positive change can come from it.

“I think the community, some of the people in the community, are happy to see it go ahead,” he said. “Generally, the community is looking forward to having this put behind them. It’s tragic, whatever way you look at it. Young Burton was lost and found deceased, hopefully this can put some closure to it.”

Feds need to be involved: Williams

Something that was highlighted after the Winters tragedy was concern over jurisdictional issues in search and rescue.

Both federal and provincial authorities are responsible for search and rescue, with missing people at sea handled federally and missing people on land dealt with provincially. In the Winters case it involved both land and sea, and Williams said there needs to be discussions, hopefully in this inquiry, about how that’s handled.

“The whole thing between ground, marine and air, while they are separate jurisdictions, there is interplay between them and I don’t think you can talk about one separate from the other.”

Justice and Public Safety Minister Steve Crocker was asked by SaltWire if the federal government had committed to being involved in the inquiry. Crocker said they’d been in discussion with the feds as recently as a few days ago about their participation and there has been agreement to cooperate in some ways.

“We still haven’t got definite answers from them, but we do know they have offered to cooperate when it comes to questions around resources they would have,” Crocker said.

Williams said he’s hopeful the federal government and the Department of National Defense will co-operate in the inquiry, which is hoped to be more policy based and less adversarial than previous commissions of inquiry in the province.

“It’s isn’t going to be there pointing fingers and assigning blame. This is about how we can improve the system so this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I would hope they would look favourably on this and want to participate.”

Dates for when the inquiry will begin have not yet been made public.

Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for the SaltWire Network

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