Premier Kathy Dunderdale says she will not have a “mini-inquiry” in her office over the death of Labrador teen, Burton Winters.
A day after it was revealed the premier’s office cancelled a meeting with his family, citing the family’s request to have a retired search and rescue co-ordinator present, Dunderdale said she hasn’t reconsidered her decision.
“I’m absolutely happy to meet with Burton Winters’ family. But I’m not going to participate in a meeting that is much larger than that. That has a different agenda than that was proposed to me,” the premier told reporters while she attended the annual Sportsfest Friday morning at the Techniplex in St. John’s.
The premier said she’s trying to direct Burton’s grandmother, Charlotte Winters-Fost, to the best person to answer the questions she has about search and rescue operations. Burton, 14, got lost in late January on his snowmobile on sea ice near Makkovik. After his snowmobile broke down, Burton walked 19 kilometres in the wrong direction from Makkovik. His body was found days later.
Dunderdale said she doesn’t want the meeting to turn into a “media circus.”
“In terms of sitting with me and talking with me about Burton and what a fine young man he was and why I don’t believe a provincial inquiry is required, and why a provincial inquiry won’t get us the kinds of answers that they believe from the federal government, I’m happy to do that,” she said, adding she wasn’t the one who went to the media to tell them a meeting had been set up.
“It was agreed that we wouldn’t do media. That it would be two grandmothers talking to one another around those parameters.”
Winters-Fost said Friday it wouldn’t be a media circus if Dunderdale would call a public inquiry into her grandson’s death.
“That’s what our meeting was designed to do, was to make a personal plea to her for that,” she said. “I guess that’s not her area of expertise. I guess she’s not a decision-maker. That’s why we wanted to meet with her, because she’s the one who makes the decisions.”
The premier suggested the family meet instead with Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien, who is responsible for emergency services.
Speaking to reporters Friday morning, she rejected the suggestion she could have had O’Brien accompany her in her meeting with Winters-Fost.
“I’m not going to have a mini-inquiry up in my boardroom. If you’re bringing experts or so-called experts or expertise from outside to ask questions on search and rescue, what was done, what wasn’t done, you want express answers on why the rescue failed, then you need to go to the appropriate ministry and the appropriate organizations to give you that information. That’s a completely different agenda than what was proposed to me. Not once, but twice.”
But Winters-Fost said she’s not accepting the premier’s recommendation to meet with O’Brien.
“If I wanted a meeting with Mr. O’Brien, I would have requested a meeting with Mr. O’Brien,” she said.
“He’s not the one who calls for an inquiry. She is. He’s got his own responsibilities and roles, but calling for an inquiry is not one of them, and that’s why we wanted to meet with Ms. Dunderdale. She’s our premier. … It’s really, really disappointing, because we had hoped that she was the person for us to speak to, to make our personal plea to get what we as a family want, and it looks like it was the wrong thing to expect.”