Letters to the editor 

Don’t judge volunteers too soon

RE: Golden SAR Incident

Last week, I read with interest Nancy Wilhelm-Morden's comments regarding the motivation for her client, Mr. Gilles Blackburn to name, among others, Golden and District Search and Rescue Society in a lawsuit emanating from the SAR Team's failed efforts in locating two lost skiers last winter. The unfortunate consequence of which was that his wife, Marie-Josee Fortin, succumbed to exposure and died.

This is a very tragic outcome and one that, predictably, is on the increase with the larger volumes of people venturing off piste and skiing into the backcountry without proper equipment, experience, planning or knowledge. The subject matter, on its own, evokes a lot of emotion. In this case, the filing of a lawsuit has further complicated the issue in that one of the cascading effects has been, that it has now become clear to every volunteer SAR organization in the province that government liability coverage does not extend to societies or its officers and directors. This has been a huge wake up call to every SAR team in B.C.

Golden and District SAR was fortunate enough to have in place private insurance that should adequately cover any costs emanating from this action. The remaining SAR teams in the province, after reviewing their coverages, have elected to continue providing volunteer search and rescue service to their respective communities while their parent organization works to seek resolution to the liability issue with the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

These have been very trying times for volunteers. Many have had to re-examine their motivations for volunteering so much of their time, in light of this new reality. As citizens of a mountain community I would ask that we all try to elevate our understanding of the facts and ramifications surrounding this particular case.

Specifically, we all need to appreciate that Nancy Wilhelm-Morden's comment that "they (the Blackburns) cried for help and their cries for help were heard by both the Golden Search and Rescue and by the RCMP...  who did nothing" is simply an allegation at this point in time. Volunteers deserve the right to have their side of the story told. As emergency responders, many are trained to mute their comments in the aftermath of a tragedy, often out of respect to the deceased, their friends, companions and family.

The significant media coverage this story has generated has unfortunately also created perfect conditions for an out of court settlement, in which case, we may never learn the truth around this tragedy. However, in the event this does not occur and a court trial ensues, be prepared for some compelling testimony on: acknowledgement of risk, personal responsibility and appropriate behaviour. After which, you can be the judge on whether volunteers acted appropriately or not.

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