Inquiry shines light on lack of search-and-rescue teams in Labrador: NunatuKavut president

·3 min read
Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut community council, says there isn't a single ground search-and-rescue team in Labrador south of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut community council, says there isn't a single ground search-and-rescue team in Labrador south of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

The president of the NunatuKavut community council says he hopes an inquiry into ground search-and-rescue lays the groundwork to boost sparse resources in Labrador.

The inquiry made a virtual stop this week in Mary's Harbour, where two fishermen were lost off the coast in September despite a 10-day search, including ground search and rescue.

"It had been devastating, but it made this work that we are engaged in with the inquiry all that more pressing, all that more important," NunatuKavut president Todd Russell told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

The families of Joey Jenkins and Marc Russell, along with the NunatuKavut community council, made a presentation to the inquiry Monday. The inquiry — spurred in part by the death of 14-year-old Burton Winters of Makkovik in 2012 — had already started before Jenkins and Russell went missing at sea on Sept. 17.

Todd Russell, who is Marc Russell's uncle, said Monday's presentation was well received by James Igloliorte, a former provincial judge now acting as the inquiry's commissioner, and has shone a light on ground search and rescue in NunatuKavut and in Labrador.

"One of the things that struck us, in a stark way, was that there's … not one ground search and rescue team south of Goose Bay," Russell said.

"So in all the communities from Cartwright right into L'Anse au Clair there's no ground search-and-rescue team. These are the things that are being highlighted within the inquiry, and this I believe is really setting the groundwork from some very strong recommendations that will come out of this inquiry."

Early recommendations

The inquiry has released several draft recommendations — which may be changed or updated, with consultations with Indigenous groups continuing — including:

  • Coastal searches need to be organized better and with more transparency.

  • The provincial government should provide capital and continue to fund search-and-rescue groups.

  • Training should be done in remote regions, instead of flying people to urban centres.

  • The provincial government should update search-and-rescue technology.

  • More mental health training and support for search-and-rescue members.

Submitted by Dwight Russell
Submitted by Dwight Russell

Barry Andersen, the community constable in the search for Burton in 2012, testified at the inquiry on multiple days in Makkovik earlier this fall.

Andersen, a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association, said his first impression of the draft is that it looks "OK," adding he hopes there will be more funding available to organizations like his.

"We know that there's always a requirement to go out and fundraise for certain things, but for the operations of the search and rescue organizations I think it would be nice to see those recommendations acted on," he said.

"For Makkovik, we don't do any fundraising for our team here. There's just too much competition in a small community with the other organizations in town that do fundraising."

Russell said he hopes things will move quickly once recommendations are made.

"These things must be acted on basically immediately. We cannot allow these gaps to continue, we cannot allow these deficiencies of resources, or the lack of resources and assets for ground search and rescue or search and rescue overall go unheeded," he said.

The need for search and rescue is only going to grow, he said.

"We cannot wait. We have people on the land or on the water constantly. It is about our sustenance, about our way of life, and this is only increasing with climate change, for instance."

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