Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand and speak in this debate. Being from Nova Scotia, I can appreciate the importance of having a solid and responsive search and rescue system in Canada. Many Atlantic Canadians have traditionally made their living from the sea, whether fishing or depending on it for our imports and our exports.
While we have a love for the sea, we also have a high degree of respect for the dangers that the sea brings. The sea is responsible for countless incidents every year, and having a search and rescue system that can come to the aid of Canadians during these incidents is crucial.
So far in this debate we have heard about how in Canada search and rescue relies on all levels of government and volunteer organization to work together in the best interests of Canadians. We have heard how the Canadian Forces are just one component of this system, albeit a crucially important one. We also have debated the relative merits of diverting more of our search and rescue resources toward establishing a continuous 24/7 readiness posture for Canadian Forces search and rescue crews of 30 minutes from notification to liftoff.
The government does not support this for the reasons we have already stated in the debate. In rising today, I will add to this debate by highlighting some of the outstanding expertise and capabilities that the Canadian Forces bring to search and rescue in Canada, capabilities that are deployed in more than a thousand search and rescue calls each and every year, capabilities that provide assistance to three or four people in distress each day in this vast and rugged country, including a total of more than 200 people since the beginning of this year alone. This so we might better appreciate the impressive quality of the search and rescue system that we already have in Canada.
Within Canada's search and rescue system, the Canadian Forces have a specific role to play. It operates the joint rescue coordination centres of Victoria, Trenton and Halifax. It monitors distress signals and, along with the Canadian Coast Guard, it coordinates the national response to air and sea incidents. Under search and rescue's mandate, our military also plans and prepares to respond to major air disasters taking place anywhere in Canada.
This means, following a plane crash, and immediate search and rescue response should an event be declared a major air disaster, but the Canadian Forces has the responsibility to deploy additional search and rescue technicians and survival equipment and logistics and medical personnel.
The unique specializations and capabilities of the Canadian Forces which it brings to the table allows it to assist when possible with missions within provincial or municipal responsibilities as well. These include medical evacuation or searches for lost persons. The bottom line is that when and where it is needed, the Canadian Forces always do its best to respond whenever and wherever it can.
Such was the case on April 15, 2011, when Canadian Forces crews from Greenwood and Gander flew more than 2,400 kilometres to Baffin Island aboard a CC-130 Hercules and a CH-149 Cormorant to help rescue two hikers, one of whom had fallen into a crevasse and was in need of immediate medical attention.
More recently, on March 27 when the Greenwood search and rescue crews were called on two different incidents over the span of a few hours. First, in support of the province of Nova Scotia, five fishermen were hoisted out of the Great Pubnico Lake after their 14-foot boat capsized. Only a few hours later, three people were hoisted off a disabled sailing vessel off Cape Sable Island to a Cormorant in 11 metre seas. This level of service is clearly outstanding and I believe it deserves the pride and support of all Canadians.
The location of search and rescue bases in CFB Comox, Winnipeg, Trenton, Greenwood and Gander is based on decades of historical data that demonstrate that these areas are central to approximately 90% of search and rescue incidents. Canadian Forces crews can respond with Hercules and Buffalo aircraft that provide them the reach, the endurance and the speed to conduct searches for hours over Canada's vast search and rescue area of responsibility.
We also have a dedicated fleet of Cormorant and Griffin helicopters that have the versatility and stability required for critical hoisting operations. These air assets are by no means all the Canadian Forces has to offer. When the Canadian Forces respond to a search and rescue incident, every one of its resources on every base on this country is a potentially deployable asset. The Canadian Forces will send its most appropriate capability that can get there the fastest.
Of all of the search and rescue capabilities at the Canadian Forces' disposal, the most valuable and most impressive is the search and rescue technician, better known as the SAR tech. The SAR techs are trained to provide on-site, life-saving medical help and have an impressive range of professional capabilities. They are experts in trauma life support, land and sea survival, Arctic rescue, parachuting, diving, mountain climbing and rappelling. They do not hesitate to put their own lives in danger to save others.
These men and women are professional heroes in Canada and on an average day these SAR techs, along with an aircrew, deploy as many as three or four search and rescue missions. This means that, at this very moment, a crew is likely in the air on its way to provide help to someone in need somewhere in Canada right now.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, their service sometimes comes at a price. Such was the case in October 2011 when two hunters were stranded in a life raft in the Arctic waters off of Igloolik. Three search and rescue technicians parachuted out of a CC-130 Hercules into the freezing waters of Canada's Arctic to help the two semi-conscious men.
Sergeant Janick Gilbert, one of the SAR technicians, lost his life that day responding to that call. Sadly, this is not an isolated event. In the last 25 years, 34 SAR members and volunteers have given their lives in their quest to save others.
The government fully recognizes the inherent risks of the search and rescue profession, just as it does all aspects of military service. For this reason, we are committed to working with members of the Canadian Forces to provide them with whatever tools and support they need to strengthen their search and rescue capabilities so that they can both succeed in their missions and return home to their families safely.
For example, in one of the most challenging areas of the country, the Arctic, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to enhance the reach and responsiveness of the Canadians Forces, such as the pre-positioning of northern survival caches at several key northern airports and ensuring that search and rescue organizations have access to life-saving equipment and material that can be rapidly air dropped.
In addition, the Department of National Defence also provides training and financial assistance to the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association which is establishing the capabilities of northern commercial operators to help increase the availability of search aircraft in Canada's north.
Perhaps most important, the Canadian Forces is increasing its physical presence and capabilities in the north by conducting training operations.
The Canadian Forces has various domestic roles and is responsible for multiple activities on a daily basis, such as surveillance, search and rescue and readiness training, all of which must be considered when planning the distribution of its assets so that the right mix of capabilities is distributed to optimize its availability for a variety of roles in Canada.
Such was the case just a few weeks ago when the Minister of National Defence announced the deployment of a third Griffon helicopter to 5 Wing Goose Bay. This will increase the operational flexibility of 444 Combat Support Squadron to support secondary roles, such as search and rescue missions.
In conclusion, I believe this debate has made it clear that this government, along with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, continually strives to provide the best service possible so that Canadians receive the help they need when and where they need it.
While we cannot support this particular motion, I thank the hon. member for bringing this discussion forward and for taking such an active interest in the Canadian Forces and its primary mission, which is protecting the safety of Canadians. I think all members of the House can agree on that.