That the House acknowledge that Canada lags behind international search and rescue norms and urge the government to recognize the responsibility of the Canadian Forces for the protection of Canadians, and to take such measures as may be required for Canada to achieve the common international readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, from tasking to becoming airborne, in response to search and rescue incidents.
Mr. Speaker, this resolution is one which is extremely dear to my heart based upon, in part, the place in Canada from which I come and the concern that all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have about the importance of the availability of search and rescue for those who are lost at sea or in need of assistance from the Canadian Forces to protect them in circumstances of danger.
Search and rescue is a matter of great importance from coast to coast to coast. The third coast that we talk about is up in the Arctic where search and rescue is particularly difficult and important.
The motion says that the House acknowledge that Canada lags behind international search and rescue norms. That is something that I firmly believe is so and I will deal with that in my remarks. The motion urges the government to recognize the responsibility of the Canadian Forces for the protection of Canadians and to take such measures as may be required for Canada to achieve what is a common international readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, from tasking to becoming airborne, in response to search and rescue incidents. The motion is worded in that way is to recognize that we do not have the kind of international standards that exist in the U.K., the United States, Australia, Norway or other countries that are our allies and that we would look to for benchmarking of standards.
I will never forget the testimony given by Mr. Philip McDonald. He testified before the defence committee meeting in St. John's on February 1, 2011. He was a fisheries observer on board the Melina & Keith II which, at about 5:30 p.m. on September 12, 2005, slipped beneath the waves. The eight crew members on board, including Mr. McDonald, ended up in the water. Two men drowned right away. The others clung to debris during the search and rescue efforts. Mr. McDonald was rescued by a boat. He said, “As they were hauling me aboard, I heard the loud noise of the Cormorant helicopter flying over. I jumped up on the deck and told the crew of the Lady Charlotte Star there were eight of us.” Two others were rescued shortly later. Unfortunately, the other four, Ivan Dyke, Anthony Malloy, Joshua Williams and Justin Ralph, were gone. He then said, “I saw a young man clinging to a piece of styrofoam just 20 minutes before I was rescued. He could not hold on any longer.”
So Mr. McDonald saw this young man drop below the waves 20 minutes before he was rescued. The Cormorant that left Gander to come to the rescue scene was tasked at 4:50 p.m. It became airborne at 6:10 p.m., one hour and 20 minutes later. When it arrived on the scene, it was 20 minutes past this young man slipping beneath the waves.
We have a standby time in Canada for the period 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week. They call that working hours. For the rest of the time during the week, on the weekends and after 4 p.m., what the Department of National Defence repeatedly and inexplicably in its reports called the quiet hours, the response standard is two hours. Most times, search and rescue teams do better than that. However, this is the only country I am aware of that has a two hour response standard after 4 p.m., in fact a two hour response standard at all. If this helicopter had left within 30 minutes from being tasked at 4:50 p.m., it would have been there considerably earlier. In fact, it would have been there long before this young man slipped beneath the waves.
A study done in 1999 by the National Search and Rescue Secretariat of National Defence stated that it had great difficulty with the approach to search and rescue. The team studying the readiness standby posture, 2 hour standby during quiet hours and 30 minute readiness capability during working hours, said that resource availability is the primary driver that determines the standby postures for all national search and rescue program departments.
That was in 1999. In 2007, when the Transportation Safety Board did its report on the Melina & Keith II, it talked about a review of the standby search and rescue posture and quoted the report. It said that the standby postures of primary SAR resources should be determined primarily through an analysis of demand for services. It went on to say that DND policy limits the 30 minute standby position to 40 hours per week, indicating that resource availability continues to be the primary factor in determining SAR responses.
What is the demand for services? I can refer to another report by the Department of National Defence, an unclassified copy dated 2005. A table shows coverage for incidents occurring during a three year period when different times were considered. It looked at various periods of standby time, to see how many incidents were covered.
When we look at the 30 minute standby for 8 hours a day, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., only 17% of the incidents requiring search and rescue services occurred during that period. Over 80%, 83% by this calculation, of the taskings for search and rescue aircraft occurred outside the so-called working hours and during the so-called quiet hours, after 4 p.m., before 8 a.m. and on weekends. This was a fleet analysis determining what was required for fixed wing search and rescue, determining demand for services of search and rescue.
It looked at various configurations. It looked at 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 12 midnight, which would be 82% coverage. By changing the configuration and looking at how many hours of service there would be for this 30 minute standby posture, it could actually increase the coverage to 82%.
If we did what this motion called for and had a 30 minute standby posture, 24/7, we would have 100% coverage available in 30 minutes.
What does that mean? It means that we are not doing the job when it comes to making search and rescue aircraft available. I want to talk about the crews, pilots and search and rescue technicians. They are some of the bravest and most skilled people we have in our society, let alone in the military. These people risk their lives daily to save others. Unfortunately, some of them lose their lives in that task.
Just before Christmas of last year, an incident happened in the north where the search and rescue technicians parachuted in the dark through 40-kilometre per hour winds into 10-foot Arctic waves to rescue two Inuit men whose boat had become trapped in the ice while they were walrus hunting. The hunters and two technicians survived the ordeal but Sergeant Janick Gilbert did not. The tether connecting him to his life raft broke and by the time a rescue helicopter arrived five hours later he was dead.
Over the years, some of the bravest actions have been undertaken by search and rescue technicians in incidents such as this. They not only risk their life but sometimes lose it.
Other countries have greater abilities to conduct search and rescues. It is not the fault of the search and rescue technicians or the pilots that the helicopter was not there to save those who were lost on the Melina and Keith II . They were there ready to brave whatever elements existed to save the lives of those individuals. However, the resources, the system and the availability of aircraft are what determines how they are able to act.
Some international comparisons have been done, unfortunately not by the government because that does not see to be the benchmark, but by an individual by the name of Paul Clay of Seacom International Inc. who presented a report to the defence committee in St. John's. He provided information on the comparisons between Canada and other countries. In the case of Canada, it was 30 minutes by day and 120 minutes being the standard after 4:00 p.m., before 8:00 a.m. and on weekends. The government of the United Kingdom shows the ARF at 15 minutes by day and 45 minutes by night. The Republic of Ireland is 15 minutes by day, meaning 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and 45 minutes after 9:00 p.m. Australia is 30 minutes by day, 30 minutes by night and 24/7 service provided by the royal Australian air force operated by CHC. The United States coast guard is 30 minutes day or night 24/7. Mexico is 40 minutes day or night. The royal Norwegian air force in Norway provides 15 minutes coverage day or night 24/7.
When we compare Canada to the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland with 15 minutes by day until 9:00 p.m. and 45 minutes at night, the common standard is that of Australia and the United States showing 30 minutes for the U.S. coast guard, 30 minutes for Australia and then 40 minutes for Mexico. We should have that standard for our people who are lost at sea.
Whether it is off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, on the Great Lakes of Ontario, off the coast of British Columbia or in the Arctic, the fastest way to rescue somebody is to get in the air quickly. We are not doing that and that should be changed.
I call on the support of all members to ask the government to meet that international standard so that Canadians can be protected, as they should be.