Questions linger over Burton Winters’ death

Dunderdale to meet with family ‘one grandmother to another’

James McLeod
Published on May 8, 2012

Premier Kathy Dunderdale told reporters Monday she will meet with the family of Burton Winters, the 14-year-old Labrador teen who died after his snowmobile broke down.

The meeting with Winters’ grandmother comes as new questions swirl around the teen’s death on the Labrador sea ice earlier this year.

“Burton Winters’ grandmother called, and said, ‘I want to come talk to you about Burton, because he’s gotten lost in all of this,’”

Dunderdale told reporters. “One grandmother to another grandmother, I’m going to sit and talk about Burton.”

According to a report by the CBC Monday morning, searchers were stymied in the crucial first hours of the search for Winters in late January.

But in response to the story, both the RCMP and Premier Kathy Dunderdale say the CBC has the facts wrong.

“The government has been consistent in its iteration of the facts regarding the Burton Winters tragedy since the very first day,” Dunderdale said Monday during question period in the House of Assembly. “There is no new news here.”

When Burton got lost on the Labrador sea ice in late January, his snowmobile broke down and he walked for 19 kilometres before eventually freezing to death.

Since his death, questions have been raised about the search-and-rescue response, especially when it comes to the military’s decision not to dispatch a Cormorant helicopter to search for Burton.

At issue Monday were recordings of conversations between search-and-rescue officials obtained by the CBC under access to information legislation.

One conversation in particular seems to indicate the RCMP asked for a helicopter to assist them on the first day of searching for Burton.

Local RCMP was the primary search co-ordinator when Burton went missing, but a recording of a conversation between RCMP Cpl. Kimball Vardy and military search-and-rescue dispatcher Capt. Kristin MacDonald in Nova Scotia seem to indicate Vardy contacted the provincial government’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services on the first day of the search and asked for a helicopter to aid them.

But on Monday, RCMP spokesman  Sgt. Marc Colombe said that’s not true.

“They were saying the initial call was made to Fire and Emergency Services. It wasn’t. That’s the discrepancy,” Colombe said.

All of these issues led Labrador Liberal MHA Randy Edmunds to renew his call for an inquiry into the Burton Winters tragedy, and search-and-rescue services.

“Something went wrong,” Edmunds said. “The only thing that can get to the bottom of this is an inquiry.”

Dunderdale has dismissed the idea of an inquiry before, and on Monday she downplayed the new information.

Dunderdale said she has her own questions about Burton’s death, specifically about why the federal search-and-rescue personnel weren’t sent to aid in the search, but she’s pursuing that part of things with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

“Up to this point, we haven’t received a satisfactory answer,” she said.

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