Update: Military instructed to investigate MP Scott Simms

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Minister says it was to be expected in wake of news stories on 2010 Cormorant flight

Cormorant. - Telegram file photo

Members of the Canadian Forces were instructed to investigate Liberal MP Scott Simms, as news broke of Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s flight in a Cormorant helicopter on the Gander River in July 2010.

According to the minister’s office, it was standard research.

On Friday, the Toronto Star released a collection of internal Department of Defence emails, obtained through an access to information request, that include members of the military posing questions and receiving answers regarding the MP for Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor and his past use of Cormorant flights.

A spokesman for the minister suggested MacKay was not digging up dirt on Simms, but simply gathering information required for debate in the House of Commons.

“Debate in the House focused on parliamentarians riding on military assets,” noted a statement offered by the minister’s office. “Information about this flight was relevant to understand in what other instances MPs had flown (on SAR aircraft).”


The news stories around MacKay’s helicopter flight started flying Sept. 21, when a CTV report raised debate over whether the flight was for the minister to gain a greater understanding of search and rescue (SAR) capabilities, or simply to get him to the Gander airport from a private fishing lodge.

Simms publicly criticized the flight, alongside other opposition MPs, as personal use of a SAR resource.

According to the emails released Friday, a back and forth began among military personnel in Gander and Ottawa, as the subject made it to the floor of the House of Commons on Feb. 22.

Major Byron Johnson in Gander emailed three majors, based in Ottawa, to update them on his look at Simms’ interactions with military search and rescue resources.

“Staff continuing search but nothing found thus far placing MP Simms aboard Cormorant,” Johnson wrote. “Will advise if something located.”

A followup, sent shortly after noon the same day, begins with two words: “Found it.”

The email went on to state Simms had flown “for almost a whole day” on Jan. 17, 2011. This prompted a flurry of questions from Ottawa — including who requested the flight and whether or not it was paid for by Simms.

The flight with Simms, stated Capt. Mike O’Brien at 9 Wing Gander, was to “sensitize Mr. Simms to SAR Ops,” just over five hours was spent in flight in that venture and O’Brien was not aware of any payments made to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

A later email noted Simms’ flight was arranged out of the minister’s office, following a Dec. 9, 2010 press release in which Simms criticized SAR response times.


Simms said Friday he finds the action taken by MacKay in this case is “odd.” 

“It’s bad enough that, I think, the Conservatives are not providing the right amount of assets and resources for SAR operations, now they’ve got them tasked to gathering material on opposition MPs. I mean, why didn’t MacKay call me?”

In that case, Simms said, the day of emails and research by military personnel could have been avoided.

Despite this, Simms recommended discussions now be re-focused on what he sees as the need for more SAR resources, specifically new fixed wing SAR aircraft and a reconsideration of ground SAR protocols — particularly following the recent death of Burton Winters.

The 14-year-old from Makkovik froze to death before he could be rescued. His body found Feb. 1, three days after he was first reported missing and 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile. Winters case involved cross-over between jurisdictions, but has raised overarching criticism of existing SAR services.

NDP MP for St. John’s East, Jack Harris is another critic of MacKay’s 2010 Cormorant flight and is also mentioned in the Sept. 22 emails.

“It’s unfortunate that the first instinct is to try to find something on somebody else instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of the complaint here,” he said Friday. “This is the kind of stuff that goes on in politics. It’s distasteful frankly.”

Yet Harris said — like Simms — he would also welcome redirecting the conversation back to improving the national SAR system. He too noted the death of Makkovik’s Burton Winters while speaking with The Telegram.

Harris has a private members’ motion on SAR response times that will be up for debate in the next session, proposing better standards including a single, 24/7 response time as opposed to the current two-tier responses dependant on the time of call.


Read the email exchange here.

Organizations: House of Commons, Canadian Forces, Toronto Star Department of Defence CTV Conservatives

Geographic location: Gander, Ottawa, Gander River Makkovik

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Recent comments

    March 01, 2012 - 14:01

    as a taxpayer i never hide mr. simms. giving my last name as nothing to do with the issue, besides did the wilki-leaks liberal fellow who dug up dirt on minister teows give his name? I THINK NOT, until he was caught. the issue here mr. simms is the helicopter ride, you said yourself that you were on board, so my question: are you going to re-pay the taxpayer like you demanded the minister of national defence to do, if not then you shouldn't throw stones. in-closing: i was surprised coming from a liberal that you said that 103 SAR was the best in the world and i agree, but wasn't it your liberal buddies JEAN and PAUL who gutted our military in the first place? I THINK SO! have a good day !

    • Scott Simms
      March 04, 2012 - 11:47

      I'm not really Mr. Simms, I'm just a troll. Anyone who would use their real identity on the internet is ignorant.

  • shame
    March 01, 2012 - 07:58

    DND had time to investigate scott simms but no time to look for Berton winters. so sad...

    February 29, 2012 - 10:18

    the taxpayer/voters are waiting mr. simms. time to come clean and explain what really took place regarding those helicopter rides. the people who payed for these free rides deserve answers, so if you have nothing to hide then come out from under your desk on parliment hill and explain.

    • Scott Simms
      February 29, 2012 - 13:54

      Hi James... Not hiding at all. As a matter of fact if you want to discuss this in person feel free to call the office and we can do this face to face or any other way. Although, it is kind of ironic to accuse me of hiding when anytime you post anything you only leave your first name (if that is your name) and nothing else. You have to ask yourself.... who is hiding here James. To the issue: Just over a year ago I put out a release questioning Search and Rescue and the Minister took issue with that. Fair game. He instructed the squadron to invite me along on a routine training mission that was near Grand Falls-Windsor followed by an exercise close to Fogo Island. That morning, from Bishop's Falls, I got in my car and drove to the base for 8:00 am, participated in a briefing followed by suiting up and aboard the Comorant we went for a five hour training day. Nobody, and I mean nobody, from my office asked Search and Rescue to go to a particular place for pick up or drop off and I certainly didn't ask them to fly to a particular spot. When their training day was done I got back into my car and drove to my office. This was THEIR training day and if they had asked me to pay for the rental of my training suit and helmut I would have gladly done so. Minister McKay's trip, however, required the Comorant to pick him up and bring him to the airport to get a flight to Ontario. The Comorant flight lasted just 30 miniutes. I'll leave it at that. But, you must admit, the circumstances and the context of his flight compared to mine are quite different. Also, I never asked anyone in the military to find information on McKay's flight. All the media reports of McKays "taxi" ride was a result of them asking for this information. First it was Bob Fife at CTV and recently by Allan Woods of the Toronto Star. They got the emails by Access to Information and asked me to explain or comment much like how you (James) asked me to explain as well. I am hesitant to keep talking about this because I would rather be talking about the fact that 103 SAR in Gander is the best SAR outfit in the world and are staffed by the greatest military personnel in the country along with the greatest maintenance and support staff as well. Thanks James for your input (whoever you are).

  • TheLaughingMan
    February 27, 2012 - 12:29

    Stephen Harper, Rob Nicholson, John Baird, Jim Flaherty, Diane Finley and Vic Toews, along with the rest of the Conservatives are liars, cheats and thieves! Bill-C10 threatens to throw many in jail longer and needlessly! Bill C-11 would strip Canadians of even more rights to what we already own and censor our flow of information! Bill-30 will strip us of our privacy! Now lets not forget the G20 fiasco, Vic Toews immortal speech about Canadians being pedophiles, the planned pension cuts, they place gag orders on those they appoint to various studies so that if the studies turn up data contradicting their ideals, they can suppress the data, or their election fraud, and now they can't even get our budget out on time! The fascist Conservatives would turn our country into an Orwellian nightmare! How can they even call themselves a legitimate government?! How dare they act like they have our best interests in mind! Who do they think they are telling us what we need and how to live our lives?! They're the middle management and we're the ones who hired them! We should be telling them what we want and how we want it! Canada needs to rise up march on Ottawa and occupy the parliament! We need to take back our country, remove the Conservatives from power! Our government, as a whole needs to be dismantled and rebuilt (that goes for those other parties as well. I'm looking at you Liberals and NDP. Fat load of good they've ever done for the country)! All our political parties have ever really done to us has been to divide Canadians. This only serves to make us easy prey for predators in the night! I say no more! Canadians need to stand up as one, divided by zero! Those that would appose the will of the people need to be taught a lesson, followed by some good old fashion tarring and feathering, finish with banishing traitors from Canada! Finally Canadians need some laws that allow us to force referendums on the government and punish corrupt politicians who think they can screw with their people, their employers, you and me! Fellow Canadians I implore you raise up and shout out your discontent for the horrible state of our country and the world for that matter. Shout from every mountain top (email, letters, phone calls, blogs, forums, twitter, youtube, ect…), "WE WILL NOT STAND FOR CORRUPTION WITHIN OUR GOVERNMENT! WE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT AS OUR FREEDOMS ARE SLOWLY ERODED! WE'RE COMING FOR YOU HARPER REGIEM! EXPECT US!" Let the voice of the masses resinate as one, thundering and deafening our oppressors. Keep screaming and screaming, every day, all day, don't stop screaming until this country is ours again! 'Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!… You've got to say, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the windows, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" 'People shouldn't fear the government, the government should fear the people!'

    February 26, 2012 - 19:06

    its our money that was used here with those choppers. simms should also pay for his free ride if its true that he took advantage of us the taxpayer. you are no better simms then the conservatives and the ndp. maybe its time to resign scott simms, your true colours are showing.

  • Steve
    February 26, 2012 - 02:13

    “It’s unfortunate that the first instinct is to try to find something on somebody else instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of the complaint here,” he said Friday. “This is the kind of stuff that goes on in politics. It’s distasteful frankly.” --- Of course they try to dig up dirt on someone, it's part of Harpo the Horrible's book of dirty tricks. It's time for the people of Canada to wake up, rise up, storm parliament hill and boot that little Nazi dictator Harper out before he does any more damage.

    • Lane
      February 27, 2012 - 21:39

      So let's get this straight. When the Conservatives catch Simms playing Army with a DND helicopter, it's Conservative "ditry tricks", but when the Liberals did exactly the same thing to MacKay - asking DND for damaging info on him - it was A-OK, right Steve? That's just hypocrisy.

  • Carl
    February 25, 2012 - 17:16

    Opposition MPs ask DND for information through Access to Information all the time, and DND hands it over. That's how the Liberals and NDP found out about MacKay's helicopter flight in the first place. So how can the Liberals cry foul when the shoe is on the other foot? It's called transparency, and it should apply equally to MPs on both sides of the House. I don't think riding in DND helicopters helps any MP do his or her job better, so neither MacKay nor Simms should have done so. Such rides are nothing more than fun perks of being an MP, and a total waste of taxpayers' money and military resources and manpower.

  • Dwayne
    February 25, 2012 - 10:48

    ....and these guys want unrestricted access to your hard drive?? Very very scary....

  • Skeptical Cynic
    February 25, 2012 - 10:44

    The tragic irony here of course, is that as soon as the order comes down from MacKay's office, DND launches a paper-chase SAR mission in a frantic attempt to save MacKay from political embarrassment, producing results within hours. Meanwhile, it takes DND over two days to launch an actual SAR mission to try to save Burton Winters who subsequently freezes to death on the ice floes off the Labrador coast. And then all MacKay's minions can offer the Winters family is lame excuses and a shrug of the shoulders? Despicable. Absolutely despicable.

  • Larry
    February 25, 2012 - 10:31

    This is the sad that our overly paid members of the House of Commons have nothing better to do than act like little children. Who really cares about a ride on a DND helicopter. Get back to work on the economic matters, health care, education and pension sustainability. I'm totally sick and tired of the MP's and to respect the media for fueling this stupid issue. ( He got to ride in a DND helicopter and I didn't) We are paying you to take care of our country so do it and get back to work.

  • Peggy
    February 25, 2012 - 10:30

    No matter what we say or how we feel or how angry or upset we are, our politicians are a bunch of self-centered, selfish leeches living high off Taxpayers' money. But Peter MacKay has to be at the very bottom of the barrel. What a pathetic crowd we have as OUR representatives.

  • Come on Bye'
    February 25, 2012 - 10:24

    Is dere any wunder why dere is voter apathy? A bunch of youngsters dey are! I says we should whack em all on da Ar$e and send 'em home!

  • Gerry
    February 25, 2012 - 10:19

    Fibrals! Ha ha. You put the words 'fib' and 'Liberals" together! Now THAT'S funny. This is political satire at it's best. You should do stand up. Not only that, but you have convinced me that, unlike Conservatives, liberals lie. Never again shall I vote for the... Fiberals!

  • sealcove
    February 25, 2012 - 09:28

    just not fiberals aboy they learmed from the best

  • Joseph McGrath
    February 25, 2012 - 08:52

    This MacKay guy is really sick.He treats the taxpayers and public purse as if he owned both of them.Surely even Harper sees the need to get rid of this IDIOT.This proves to me once again that"a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man." e.e.cummings.

  • John
    February 25, 2012 - 08:31

    This is an example of how Mac Kay used military personnel involved in a personal political attack. He should resign immediately or be fired by the prime ministers office. This has crossed the line in so many ways and it turns my stomach. Prime Minister, when are you going to start holding your ministers to a higher standard?

  • Sang Riel
    February 25, 2012 - 08:25

    What are these people doing wasting MY tax dollars,which pays their salaries,to dig up dirt on each other.Is this a SAD joke or a Mad Magazine excerpt of spy versus spy.What kind of childish schoolyard behaviour is this ? How about we get on with the business of improving CANADA and not the public perception of our ministers.THIS IS SICKENING.No wonder we have a defecit.What a bunch of two year olds.