Premier backs out of meeting with dead boys’ grandmother

James McLeod
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Premier Kathy Dunderdale

What was supposed to be a meeting between two grandmothers turned into a political flare-up between Premier Kathy Dunderdale and the family of deceased Labrador teen Burton Winters.

A meeting that was supposed to happen between Dunderdale and Winters' grandmother, Charlotte Winters-Fost, was cancelled after Winters-Fost asked to have a retired search and rescue (SAR) co-ordinator come with her to the meeting.

As plans for a meeting were coming together, Winters-Fost said she wanted to bring Clarence Peddle, a retired SAR co-ordinator, with her, to provide support and to clarify or expand on any information that may be put forth.

As it became clear that Winters-Fost and her family had specific questions about the search and rescue operations, the plans for a meeting with Dunderdale fell apart.

Dunderdale told reporters Thursday she was happy to speak with Winters-Fost, but she's not the right person to ask technical, specific questions about search and rescue issues, and that those questions would be better directed to Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O'Brien, who is in charge of fire and emergency services for the province.

"I guess that's why the system had fallen apart in the beginning, because people are passing the buck. She's the one who makes all the decisions in all matters within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador," Winters-Fost said. "She's the one who's ultimately responsible."

Fourteen-year-old Burton Winters got lost in late January on his snowmobile on the sea ice off Makkovik.

When his snowmobile broke down, Winters walked 19 kilometres trying to get home, but he walked in the wrong direction.

Questions have been raised about the search and rescue response in the days after Burton went missing. It is unclear why the military did not dispatch a Cormorant helicopter to aid in the search, and it seems there were communications breakdowns be - tween the RCMP, provincial officials and the military.

The Liberals have been pressing in the House of Assembly for a public inquiry on the issue, but Dunderdale has said that wouldn't be the best way to figure out what went wrong.

Winters-Fost said she also wanted to make her case to Dunderdale for a public inquiry, and she wanted to get some specific answers on some of the search and rescue issues that have cropped up in the months since Burton's death.

Dunderdale said she's fine to talk about some of that, but not all of it.

"If you want to talk to me about Burton and tell me about Burton, I'm happy to do that, and I'm happy to tell you why I'm satisfied that a provincial inquiry will not serve a purpose at this point in time," Dunderdale said. "But if you're bringing an expert with you on search and rescue who you want to propose question on his own behalf and on behalf of the family, and you want specific information as to why the search failed, then you have to go where you can get that information, and that information would be provided through the Department of Municipal Affairs, and the minister."

Winters-Fost said she wishes politicians would move past the blame game and take responsibility for the failures earlier this year.

"Neither one of those levels of government want to take responsibility for the failings of search and rescue that their government was responsible for," she said.

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Organizations: RCMP, Burton's, Department of Municipal Affairs

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Makkovik

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