Winters SAR review 'report' available

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Federal letters on new protocols follow letters from provincial MHAs

The “report” on the review of the SAR response in the case of the now deceased 14-year-old Burton Winters was released to The Telegram at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.

The information released was in two pieces: a two-page letter from Canada Command the Department of Defence with recommended amendments to ground search and rescue protocols (dated Feb. 17, 2012) and a two-page letter from Rear-Admiral D.C. Gardam, the commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic (dated Feb. 29, 2012) on a meeting that had been held in regards to the Winters case.

The first letter refers to a “series of consultations” conducted by Canada Command on the interaction of the Department of Defence Joint Rescue and Co-ordination Centres (JRCCs — the centre in Halifax being relevant to Atlantic Canada) and provincial and territorial authorities.

The consultations, it states, “were internal to the Canadian Forces,” in the sense the discussions were between Canadian Forces staff.

“Of particular focus was the manner in which JRCCs and the relevant authorities cooperate during ground search and rescue events with law enforcement agencies and how the (National Search and Rescue Manual) describes this cooperation.”

The existing protocols, it states, “work well, with clear direction and procedures specified and tested over time.” Even so, changes are recommended.

The letter from Gardam, meanwhile, is titled “Newfoundland and Labrador Ground SAR Review” and outlines, in four points, a meeting of provincial and federal parties on Feb. 28, 2012.

The meeting was chaired by Mike Samson, deputy minister of Fire and Emergency Services in Newfoundland and Labrador. It included representatives from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, provincial Department of Justice and members from the federal Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax.

The letter notes there was “productive discussion” on SAR at the meeting “and it was evident that the organizations involved in the process found the current protocols in place to be proven, including the procedure for requesting air services.

“However, in an effort to provide an additional layer of diligence, all parties agreed to implement a confirmation/feedback mechanism so as to enhance situational awareness and improve communication between partners in ground search and rescue.”

The new “call back” protocol is explained. The letter then re-iterates the “productive and timely” nature of the joint meeting.


These letters follow on rally events and appeals from throughout the province for improvements to SAR services.

Included within the public appeals are letters sent to Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay from Conservative MHAs — the MHA for Labrador West, Nick McGrath (dated Feb. 3, 2012) and the MHA responsible for Fire and Emergency Services in the province, Kevin O’Brien (dated Feb. 10, 2012).

McGrath’s letter was sent by fax two days after the discovery of Winters’ body. He makes reference to the Makkovik boy’s death and encourages the federal government “to move swiftly” in its look into the case.

“Search and rescue response times should be as short as possible,” he writes. “Increasing search and rescue capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador is critically important to the people who rely upon this service during emergencies.”

O’Brien likewise highlights Winters’ death. He states he is not looking to assign blame, but has questions regarding the availability of air support from the federal government in the Winters case.

Specifically, he questions the fact the two Griffon helicopters stationed at Happy Valley-Goose Bay were not in service when a request for air support was made to Halifax JRCC by Winters’ searchers on Jan. 30.

“That both of these aircraft were unserviceable at the time of the request is a matter of grave concern for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am seeking your assurance that appropriate action will be taken to ensure that in future, DND aircraft stationed in the province will be maintained in a state of readiness to assist in air search operations when required.”


All documents are available for viewing here.

Read the story on the new SAR protocol resulting from the Winters case here.

Organizations: Canada Command, Department of Defence, Canadian Forces Fire and Emergency Services Royal Canadian Mounted Police Department of Justice Joint Rescue Co National Defence

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canada, Labrador West Makkovik Happy Valley Goose Bay

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Recent comments

  • clyde hodder
    March 12, 2012 - 10:21

    This incident distinctly proves the dire need for changes to accessability and urgency of response timing in such emergencies. If complacency exists in such an organization it loses its rightful place as "emergency response" vehicle. Changes not only should take place, they must .

  • Will Cole
    March 10, 2012 - 07:55

    If a few letters are what this crowd are trying to pass off as a "report" into the Burton Winters tragedy I can see why the story editor used the quotations. This would make a Grade 9's "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" look like a doctoral thesis. Rather shabby to say the least. CBC's The Fifth Estate has a documentary coming out on all this, they'll look at all the questionable excuses tendered such as the weather excuse, even though there were no disruptions to domestic flight operations in Labrador or Newfoundland that day etcetera etcetera. Stay tuned...

  • Jaames G. Learning
    March 09, 2012 - 13:44

    The Burton Winters case is a Labrador issue, which clearly showed the SAR capabilities lacking. The Conservative solution is to look at the whole picture, without acknowledging the fact of Labradoreans demonstration a clear desire to be better represented in this sector, and calling for a SAR Tech Services to establish a Service in Goose Bay. Clearly the conservitaive camp is refusing to see the Needs of the North, so here we go again, they intend to do nothing for us. Well we shall see how long they can ignore us. I sincerely hope the facebook effort can translate into ground action.