Family, supporters of teen who died on Labrador ice demand inquiry
Right, Winters-Fost (left) and Elsie Johnson share an embrace. — Photo by Colin MacLean/The Telegram
As his great-aunt spoke with The Telegram Saturday, 10-month-old Elliott Jacque stared with utter fascination at the voice recorder held tantalizingly close to his chubby cheeks.
Elliott is the brother of Burton Winters, the 14-year-old Mak-kovik, Labrador, teen whose lonely death on Labrador sea ice has resonated across the country.
Bundled against the chill, cradled in his loved ones’ arms and engrossed in the fascinating object before him, Elliott was blissfully unaware of the emotions running just under the surface of those crowded around him.
There was a lot of hugging, handshakes and more than a few tears shed as 50 or so people gathered at the aptly named Burton’s Pond on Memorial University’s St. John’s campus Saturday.
They had come for a march down some of the city’s main streets in support of Burton’s family and to demand greater search and rescue capabilities for Labrador.
Many insisted a public inquiry is needed into the boy’s death.
Wayne Norman of St. John’s said he joined the march because Burton’s death has become a political football and it’s time for it to stop.
“I’ve watched this unfold now ... and you know sadly it’s become a media circus,” said Norman.
“Where you get so many questions on so many levels, including the federal government, I believe the only way to resolve it is through an inquiry.”
“This means a lot to me, to try and get an independent inquiry,” agreed Elsie Johnson.
Johnson drove from Little Catalina for the walk.
She said a public inquiry is the only way Burton’s family can get some sense of satisfaction.
“The family needs to know why things went so so wrong when the call was made for search and rescue to come and help. They need to have some closure,” she said.
Johnson also got a sharp look in her eyes when she talked about the handling of Burton’s death — politically and from a search and rescue standpoint.
Everyone “dropped the ball,” she said. “There are so many adjectives I could use — none of them good.”
Saturday’s walk in St. John’s, organized by Holly Miller, was only one of several that were held in communities across Newfoundland and Labrador that day. All were in Burton’s name.
The teenager at the centre of this maelstrom of emotions, died in late January when he got lost on sea ice and his snowmobile broke down. He walked for 19 kilometres before freezing to death.
Questions about the handling of the case by the military have been ongoing since the teen’s body was recovered. The issue has been debated in both the House of Assembly and Parliament.
Many of those questions have centered on the delay in response from the Department of National Defence after the initial call for help went out when Burton disappeared.
Burton’s family has been calling for months for an independent inquiry and they renewed that call Saturday.
His father, Rodney Jacque, step-mom Natalie Jacque and Elliott led the procession of people as they marched down the Allandale Road sidewalk.
They are forever grateful for the amount of public support they’ve been getting through this whole ordeal, said Natalie.
“It’s nice to see so much support here. It kind of helps us a lot to get that support and to feel it,” she said.
Burton’s grandmother, Charlotte Winters-Fost, called Saturday’s event an emotional experience.
“We’ve had nothing but great support from all across the province. That extended far beyond the community of Makkovik ... and this is just another example of that support that we’ve been getting and are continuing to get,” said Winters-Fost.
But she also referenced last week’s event between her and Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
Dunderdale had agreed to meet with Winters-Fost to talk about the case, but called off the meeting after the family requested to have a retired search and rescue co-ordinator attend as well.
“It’s been a difficult week,” said Winters-Fost.
“I personally had put a lot of faith in this meeting and had some hopes that maybe things were going to get done and we were going to make some headway. But it’s just another slap in the face and it’s another thing we have to recover from, collect ourselves and figure out where we go from here,” she said.
Dunderdale has stated she is happy to meet with Burton’s family, but that she is not interested in having a “mini-inquiry” in her office.
While the premier has also raised questions about the DND’s response to the case, she has said the province has no authority to call for an inquiry because DND is a federal responsibility.
Burton’s family has never agreed with that reasoning.
Just before the group of marchers set out for their walk, mirroring the 19 kilometres Burton walked before he died, Natalie addressed everyone.
She thanked them for their support and asked that they continue to stand with her family in calling for an inquiry.
“There are simply way to many questions left unanswered and it’s gone on for far too long ... we will not give up until a joint inquiry is called,” she said.
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