Labrador groups disappointed by defense minister’s lack of commitment to search and rescue

Defense Minister Anita Anand was in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Wednesday to reiterate the federal government’s commitment to fund the modernization of Canadian military bases. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Indigenous groups in Labrador said Wednesday’s visit by the federal defense minister was a missed opportunity to discuss improving search and rescue services in the region.

Following Anita Anand’s visit to Canadian Forces Base 5 Wing Goose Bay, Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, said he was happy to see federal officials in Labrador, but “very disappointed “by a lack of commitment to improve search and rescue operations.

“When so many things happened in the Big Land, affecting so many of our people and our communities, I really felt that this could have been an opportunity to improve these capacities to say to our people, to all people of Labrador and indeed in this province, that we are safer and that we have more security as individuals,” he said.

The purpose of Anand’s visit was to reiterate the federal government’s commitment to modernizing 5 Wing’s infrastructure, surveillance systems and air weapons systems and to creating a science and technology defense program.

Funding of $38.6 billion over 20 years for military bases across Canada, announced in June, is part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s modernization plan.

“This is great news for Canada and our contribution to continental defence,” Anand said. “These investments will create jobs, promote economic growth and provide opportunities for local businesses.

At the provincial level, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has allocated $1 million in its 2022 budget to the Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association in response to recommendations from the the ground search and rescue investigation for lost and missing persons in Newfoundland and Labrador is the latest to fall.

The funding represents a significant increase over the $191,000 the province provided to the voluntary organization in previous years.

Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, meets with Anand at 5 Wing Goose Bay on Wednesday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Russell said he doesn’t believe the conversation with the Department of Defense about search and rescue services is over.

“Although I am disappointed today, I believe there is still an opportunity to improve search and rescue here through DND,” he said.

“But I also think there’s a real opportunity here through the Coast Guard, through the fisheries, to improve safety and security at sea for our people.”

‘Here to help’

Nunatsiavut government member Wally Andersen said Wednesday’s announcement was good for the military base, but the biggest issue on everyone’s mind in Labrador is improved air search and rescue.

“I would have liked to see strong statements about enhanced services that would be available to all members of 5 Wing Goose Bay,” he said.

“It’s time for us to come together and make a strong case that we want an enhanced, large-scale search and rescue unit at 5 Wing Goose Bay. We have the facilities, we have the hangars, we have the accommodations. here.”

Anand said the Canadian Armed Forces unit can support designated search and rescue teams if they are available, suitable and capable.

She said provincial and territorial governments have primary responsibility for ground search and rescue teams.

“I will just say we are here to help in any way we can,” she said.

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Brandon D. James