NEWS

RCMP criticized for role in search for lost Labrador boy

05/09/2012 07:03 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

A former search and rescue co-ordinator says the RCMP's decisions in the earliest hours of the search for Burton Winters were abhorrent.

Merv Wiseman, who has become well known in Newfoundland and Labrador as a representative of staff at the now-defunct St. John's Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre, says a public inquiry is needed to investigate how officials handled the search for the 14-year-old Makkovik teenager, who froze to death on sea ice.

Telephone logs obtained by CBC News revealed that an RCMP officer in Makkovik asked his superiors on Jan. 29 to arrange a helicopter to search for Winters at first light the next morning.

But the RCMP did not act on the request until the next morning.

"The fact that they would sit on that all night and not do anything is just absolutely horrifying," Wiseman told CBC News.

CBC News obtained Department of National Defence (DND) recordings which have raised new questions about the Winters search, which has largely been controversial because of the time it took DND to mobilize aircraft to join the effort.

'We don't know what transpired'

Another search and rescue veteran, though, has a more forgiving view of how the RCMP responded.

"Whether they should have been getting it ready or not, I would say probably yes," said Harry Blackmore, who works with the volunteer Rovers ground search team.

"But it's easy to say yes here, sitting down, but we don't know what transpired."

"The call to [the provincial government's Fire and Emergency Services] could've been done that Sunday night, yes. Would it have amounted to anything, we don't know," RCMP Sgt. Marc Coulombe said earlier this week.

Wiseman does not accept the explanation.

"I don't make anything of that, other than somebody's looking for excuses," he said.

"I don't think it's the least bit hypothetical at all, as was suggested, to say that if we had've moved, that things could have been different."

Meanwhile, supporters of the Winters family held another protest in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Tuesday, calling for a greater response from both levels of government.

"They need to step up and do what the people have been asking them to," said participant Maralyn Hynes. "Especially for the Burton Winters family — they are asking for an inquiry, and we are totally and completely behind that."

Both the federal and provincial governments have rejected calls for an official inquiry into the case, although Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale has asked for an official explanation of the DND response from Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

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