On Thursday, CBC News broke a fascinating story that clearly says something about how federal officials view those who make a living from the sea in this province.
Shang Rideout told of making an emergency call to get medical help for his father, Ronald Rideout, the captain of the fishing vessel Sherry Ann Chris. At the time, the boat was fishing 130 kilometres northeast of Twillingate.
Marine traffic and communications for the Canadian Coast Guard, following rules set down May 7, forwarded the call to CIRM Roma, a free service for international mariners.
Shang Rideout said he spoke to an Italian doctor with a poor grasp of English about his father’s condition. Rideout’s father later ended up in the hospital in Gander.
CIRM Roma is a not-for-profit agency set up in 1935 to provide free basic medical care to mariners at sea — it is, essentially, the last option for ill or injured mariners of any nationality with no other place else to turn.
The federal government later said that the use of the free service was a stopgap measure while it finalized a contract with the Halifax company that normally provides medical vetting for emergency calls at sea.
As excuses go, that’s too little, too late.
Think about it this way: recently, federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was taken from his government office to hospital in an ambulance, suffering from flu symptoms. He, like Shang Rideout’s father, was later admitted to hospital.
Would Toews have found it acceptable if his staff’s call to the Ottawa ambulance service was first routed through, say, Lisbon, Portugal, and his health concerns were first vetted by a Portuguese doctor with limited English comprehension? “Fale o inglês, por favor?”
So, why is it acceptable, even in the short term, for federal officials to make other workers depend on that sort of service?
The Conservatives, with the dismantling of the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s, seem to have missed the point that those who are on the sea often aren’t hobbists — they are working, making a living, in difficult and dangerous surroundings. They don’t have the option to simply stay on shore.
When the sub-centre closure was first announced, one point made by those trying to save the operation was that it would be replaced by people without local Newfoundland knowledge, and perhaps without the ability to understand Newfoundland dialects. Who would have thought that part of the replacement of service might include a response from someone who could not fully understand the English language, let alone Newfoundland dialect?
People working on the sea deserve the full services and protections that any other Canadian worker does. The same, perhaps, as public safety ministers who call an ambulance, and expect that ambulance to arrive.
That’s pretty straightforward language to understand.