Burton Winters: RCMP, Premier Defend Handling Of Labrador Teen's Search

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KATHY DUNDERDALE
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale defended the provincial role in the search for Burton Winters. | CP


The Newfoundland and Labrador government and the RCMP are defending their actions on the January night 14-year-old Burton Winters went missing from the remote community of Makkovik.

Department of National Defence audio recordings obtained by CBC News suggest emergency officials in the province were slow to react to the call for help.

On one of the recordings, the RCMP officer leading the search tells Halifax Search and Rescue that he requested help on Sunday, Jan. 29, and that he was told to call back in the morning.

But RCMP spokesperson Marc Coulombe disputes that, saying the call for air support to the province wasn't actually made until the next day.

He says the only contact out of Makkovik on that first night was to RCMP support services in St. John's.

Coulombe says at that point, the search in Makkovik was still confined to the ground, as searchers didn't know where to look for Winters.

“Every search and rescue is conducted like — it's an investigation,” Coloumbe said. “And we have to gather the facts and follow up on the clues and bring in the assets required as we need them. The call to FES could've been done that Sunday night, yes. Would it have amounted to anything, we don't know."

FES is the acronym for Newfoundland and Labrador's fire and emergency services organization.

Coulombe says the RCMP has requested copies of the tapes from the DND to review them.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale defended the provincial role in the search for the Labrador teen.

“The government has been consistent in its iteration of the facts regarding the Burton Winters tragedy since the very first day,” Dunderdale told the legislature.

“There is no news — there is no new news that has come to light in the last 24 to 48 hours.”

Dunderdale said all of the decisions rested with the RCMP, because the police force was the lead agency.

She stressed the provincial officials were not contacted until Monday, Jan. 30 — the day after the Labrador teen went missing.

Provincial Liberal Leader Dwight Ball called for a public inquiry into the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Liberal MHA Randy Edmunds — who represents the Labrador district of Torngat Mountains, and participated in the search for Winters — said it’s time to take a hard look at what happened.

“The cover ups and the blame-throwing back and forth ... the time has come for that to end,” Edmunds said. “Time to sit down and find out what went wrong, so that can be applied to existing protocols or change them, so that we have a dependable search and rescue system in our province."

St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary, a New Democrat, was also critical.

"You've got a 14-year-old from Labrador who's disappeared,” Cleary said. “The whole community's out looking. 'Call us back in the morning? Call us back in the morning?' That is ridiculous."