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Pam Frampton
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"Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil."

- Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel laureate

Anger and grief at the tragic death of Burton Winters continue to manifest themselves on the opinion and editorial pages of this newspaper, and in columns and comments on our website, and rightly so.

The Harper government's response as to why it did not act more quickly to search for the missing boy is hard to take.

The weather was unsuitable.

No aircraft were serviceable in Goose Bay.

They couldn't send another aircraft because it might have been needed somewhere else.

"We have to manage a very large area, and it's a balancing act on how you manage weather, resources, aircraft availability, crew rest," Rear Admiral Dave Gardam told the media.

"It is very much like a ballet, and it has to be managed that way."

Well, this was a ballet with a heartbreaking ending, not exactly like Defence Minister Peter MacKay's own personal version of "Swan Lake" in July 2010 which had him ascending into a SAR aircraft - hoisted up from his favourite fishing hole.

Gardam said speaking to Burton's family about his death was "one of the most difficult things I've had to do in my career."

With all due respect to the rear admiral, I'm sure it was a painful conversation. But I would suggest Burton's family is grappling with far greater difficulty - the loss of a beloved son and brother who had the promise of a bright and happy future; the knowledge that he tried valiantly to make it home on foot in the frigid Labrador wildernesss and must have suffered unspeakable fear and cold.

That's difficult. That's painful.

That's not a rough day on the job, it's an open wound; a nightmare that never ends.

'Government assets'

In defence of having himself availed of SAR resources for transportation in the past, Peter MacKay has said in the House of Commons that, "Government business uses government assets."

But these are the people's assets, and they have every right to expect them to be at their disposal in emergencies.

The responsibility for our safety and well-being should not fall to private companies with private aircraft, as appreciated as their efforts were in searching for Burton Winters.

MacKay's arrogance and sense of entitlement are representative of a government that is all about managing assets instead of helping people.

Budget need trimming? Let's shut down maritime rescue service centres and lay off food inspectors. Heck - let's extend the age of eligibility for Old Age Security by a couple of years and keep the geezers in the workforce longer. That's the attitude.

At 9 Wing Gander, 103 Search and Rescue Squadron is supposed to provide 24/7 search and rescue service to what the Department of National Defence website acknowledges is a "massive area covering the lower Arctic, the Maritimes, Newfoundland and Labrador and all offshore waters in the region."

In fact, the website notes, "Considering that the number of SAR cases in the Newfoundland region, which are actual distress cases, is twice the national average, 103 Squadron is kept very busy."

Perhaps it's too busy, and under-resourced.

Burton Winters' family deserves a better explanation than MacKay's offer to review protocols.

There's a heck of a lot more wrong here than that the protocols need tweaking.

A boy is lost in bad winter weather. Neither of the SAR aircraft in Goose Bay works properly. The aircraft in Gander is not immediately available.

This is not a search and rescue service. This is no service.

And no disrespect is intended to the highly skilled and courageous search and rescue technicians who are at the ready to come to our aid - this is aimed at their masters, the ones up in Ottawa who manage the assets.

Should the province play a bigger role in search and rescue? Yes.

But that doesn't mean the resources we already have shouldn't be there when they're needed.

Let's get this straight. Members of the federal government can commandeer Cormorants for personal travel in the guise of a training mission, but a lost and frightened boy has to die alone in the cold in the middle of a Labrador winter.

It's no wonder Harper's Conservatives were found to be in contempt of Parliament - their contemptuousness for ordinary Canadians abounds.

Kudos to Burton's family, and to people in this province, for demanding accountability and for suggesting ways search and rescue can be improved.

But they're not going to get their wish.

The prime minister is too busy posing with pandas.

And Peter MacKay? When it comes to empathy and ethics, the defence minister has quite literally gone fishing.

Rest in peace, Burton Winters. Deepest condolences to your family. They should not have had to lose you because someone is pinching pennies.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: pam_frampton

© 2012 The Telegram (St. John's). All rights reserved.


Organizations: Burton's, Swan Lake, House of Commons Department of National Defence The Telegram Conservatives

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Goose Bay, Arctic Gander Ottawa St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Dunkel
    March 23, 2012 - 21:15

    It is my personal feeling that the failure to get search and rescue assets on scene to discover young Burton has more to do with the Canadian Forces' culture of systemic racism and blind indifference. Let's say that had the RCC in Halifax been aware of the harsh environment of the area and the abilities of its inhabitants, a more humane decision would have been made and acted upon, especially if commanders had taken internally available aboriginal awareness training.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    February 19, 2012 - 13:35

    Trolls such as the likes of Frank and mbc can try to twist and turn this tragic incident to meet their own partisan agendas, and how low is that? But nothing surprises me anymore with this crowd. Regardless of the vile attempts at spin and damage control by the partisan trolls, the facts surrounding this incident speak for themselves. Pam Frampton has accurately captured the sentiments of the people of NL with this column. And nothing will ever change that.

  • Wendy
    February 18, 2012 - 17:50

    Once a child is lost in frigid temperatures it does not matter why, how, or who is to blame. All that matters is trying to rescue that child. As taxpayers we are all contributing to SAR services and they should have responded asap to search for Burton. To follow the line of thinking of some of the commentators here it would seem we should have no SAR services because it's the person's own fault for getting in trouble in the first place. Clearly these are people who have never been in a position of need (yet) or always prepared for any unforeseen event. The reality is that people are not perfect and sometimes they do get into trouble and need to be rescued. It's human nature to help another in need. Burton needed help, many volunteers helped, a private helicopter company helped, but the service that taxpayers fund for search and rescue services did not show up for two days. Burton's family will never know if SAR assistance in the search as soon as that was possible could have found Burton in time. That's an excruciating burden to deal with. DND's excuses are just that, excuses. Instead of making excuses why couldn't SAR just have been allowed to do their job and assist with the emergency in progress rather than waiting for another emergency that never occurred? How ridiculous is that!

  • Eli
    February 18, 2012 - 15:55

    First off Pam, I almost had a panic attack this morning when your section of "the paper" was 'way down behind The Guide. I'm not a coffee freak but appreciated "the fix" then. Peter MacKay, empathy and ethics never did belong on the same page. My recollection of the s.o.b. is the collusion between himself and Loyola Hearn to oust PC front runner Scott Brison that guaranteed Harper the leadership. The rest as they say is history.

  • Labrador
    February 18, 2012 - 15:53

    MBC - the legal age to operate a snowmobile in NL is 13 yrs of age. Burton Winters was 14. Furthermore - snowmobiles are the only mode of transportation during the winter months on the north coast of Labrador as there the roads are not plowed in the Nunatsiavut region. You do not understand the culture or lifestyle of the people of Northern Labrador. It has been said that he potentially meant to go on a trail for a little ride, as is the norm in our communities. We don't have malls or movie theatres or tim horton's to go hang out in - we have a beautiful land in which to live and grow. If you have a child - have they EVER done anything of the sort? Said they were going to a mall and going somewhere else instead to put it in terms you may understand. Do not shift the blame to the family. Show compassion and join in the cause to ensure that when a call is made for search and rescue services, it is answered immediately. It could very well be a family member of yours who may be next with out any changes made to the current system. When a call is made for search and rescue - a service which all Canadian citizens (including the Nunatsiavut area) pay taxes for - we DESERVE to have it answered expediently. Because of a decision that another event MAY occur and they MAY be needed elsewhere - a child was left to die on the ice. He attempted to walk home, he walked 19 km's in an effort to save his own life and get back to his family. This CAN NOT happen again - we can not sit idly by and let this happen again. We need to join together - for the sake of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and FIGHT to protect all of our people.

  • Cyril Rogers
    February 18, 2012 - 13:23

    MBC, we get what you are saying but the federal government's neglect in the provision of basic resources is the one of greatest concern to me. it was demonstrated time and time time again in earlier tragedies but they simply don't care enough to do what is necessary. Gander has a fine SAR group but they are understaffed and work banker's hours from Monday to Friday. We have heard numerous stories of their SAR crews having to be called in to respond and that takes a lot of extra time. This SAR operation needs to be fully manned 24 - 7 every day of the year. As well, Goose Bay needs a SAR operation full time so that, between them, they can much more easily cover the vast stretch of cean and land for which they are responsible. Now, it may be that the provincial government needs to step up and do more too but it has been painfully evident for many years that the feds are neglecting their responsibilities. Let's not allow Burton's death to be in vain. As for the comments about a youth his age riding alone, that is a red herring and does not in any way absolve the provincial and federal governments of their responsibility.

  • MBC
    February 18, 2012 - 10:36

    Pam, why didn't you comment on : (1) the role on the NL Government in the rescue of this young boy; (2) why the parents allowed the young boy to travel on his snowmobile alone; and (3) the rescue efforts made by local residents to find this young boy. PS ...I turned the page of the Telegram and read Randy Simms article which writes about the role of the NL government and states that 40 residents looked for this young boy. He didn't comment on why the parents allowed a 14 year old on a snowmoile alone. What age should you be to operate a snowmobile in NL?

    • Townie
      February 19, 2012 - 13:38

      Come on MBC let's be all inclusive. We can also blame the parents of the three boys lost off Pouch Cove a number of years ago. And also the parents of the two boys who went over the cliff in Conception Bay North on their ATVs.

  • MBC
    February 18, 2012 - 10:11

    Pam, why didn't you comment on : (1) the role on the NL Government in the rescue of this young boy; (2) why the parents allowed the young boy to travel on his snowmobile alone; and (3) the rescue efforts made by local residents to find this young boy.

    • Frank
      February 19, 2012 - 10:32

      @ mbc: because it's very easy to be an arm-chair critic & pam was too busy slagging people off & seemingly blaming the federal gov't for the bad weather conditions - she didn't even have the sense to question the lack of action from the provincial gov't - all her comment was was cheap political mud slinging & she shamelessly used the loss of young Burton as her political arrow; the only question is which political party was she doing the slinging for. My sincere condolences to this young lad and his family.

  • sparsons
    February 18, 2012 - 10:09

    I don't understand why newfoundlanders and labradorians are not keeping this front and center in the media. email, call, tweet, etc. your federal and provincial representatives. make them accountable. what happened here is unfathomable: the decision maker had to choose between saving dollars or saving a life. he chose to save dollars. and the same decision will be taken again and again unless we stand up! that' means you too dunderale!

    • Pam Frampton
      February 18, 2012 - 10:25

      That's OK, you go ahead. I've had my say.