Defence department defends use of Griffon helicopter for Labrador fishing trip

It seems that the Department of National Defence is in need of a major overhaul.

After of months and months of stories about procurement fumbles and reckless spending, the department is under fire again, this time for misuse of a military helicopter.

According to CBC News, several squadron members were recently transported to 'No Name Lake' Labrador on a CH-146 Griffon helicopter for an apparent fishing trip.

The story came to light after a picture of the outing was posted on Facebook.

In a written statement, the Department of National Defence told CBC News the helicopter was from 444 Squadron at CFB 5 Wing Goose Bay.

Capt. Dave Bowen said the June 8 trip to No Name Lake was a "familiarization/readiness flight" on a CH-146 Griffon helicopter.

"This trip was approved by the commanding officer of 444 Combat Support Squadron as an extraordinary measure to recognize the effort of the ground crews in completing essential maintenance and detailed inspection of one of the aircraft returning to Goose Bay from a deployment in Jamaica," Bowen wrote in an e-mail to CBC News.

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Because 444 Combat Support Squadron is not a primary search and rescue squadron, their mandated standby posture was not impacted by activity at No Name Lake," Bowen wrote.

He also pointed out that learning fishing skills is part of the squadron's survival training.

Recognizing staff for doing their job? Survival training? Really?

Appropriately, federal veterans affairs minister Peter Penashue said Friday that he was disappointed that the DND permitted a military helicopter to be used for a fishing trip.

"I think that it sends the wrong message," he told CBC.

"But at the same time I recognize that we hadn't put anyone at risk. It doesn't help the image, particularly with what we just went through with search and rescue on Labrador."

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale also released a statement on Friday saying "Any use of DND assets that could interfere with their availability for service to the people of our province is completely inappropriate."

Nevertheless, this isn't the first time DND has been publicly chided for inappropriate use military assets.

Last September, it was learned that Canada's Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk has spent more than $1 million since 2008 flying on government VIP aircraft as an alternative to commercial flights.

In December, opposition MPs went on the attack over Defence Minister Peter MacKay's 10-minute trip on a search-and-rescue helicopter in July 2010. That helicopter picked up MacKay from a remote fishing lodge in central Newfoundland at a cost to taxpayers of $32,000.

It's becoming evident that there's a pattern of entitlement within DND ranks and that taxpayers are not being respected.

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