Tragedy should spark safeguards

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Without diminishing the tragedy of a couple waiting for days to be rescued on a mountainside, the latest development is troublesome in another way.
The Golden, B.C., Search and Rescue group learned recently it is being included in a lawsuit by a Quebec skier whose wife died after they became lost on a ski slope. The couple waited in the frozen wilderness area for nine days last February. Gilles Blackburn is seeking damages from the Golden search team, as well as the RCMP and Kicking Horse Resort. He claims the three organizations didn't do enough to save him and his wife.
Given the circumstances, that all three organizations were informed of SOS signals he stamped into the snow, it's not hard to see the frustration behind this suit.
But one key word in this issue is 'volunteer.' Such a group could be brimming with expertise among its individual members, and at the same time, it's people donating their time, helping when they can and, often, operating on a shoestring budget.
The news of the lawsuit has a number of other search and rescue teams in neighbouring British Columbia communities wondering what their status would be in similar circumstances. They're even wondering whether they should pack it in, considering the possibility of such action.
Time will tell whether volunteer groups in other parts of the country - search and rescue, fire departments and such - will reconsider their status in wake of this case. We can be certain they'll be following it with interest.
What's missing, say those commenting on this case in British Columbia, is an assurance of what they have in liability coverage.
We often hear of the strain on volunteer services. Provincial governments would do well to consider the astronomical cost of providing these services if it weren't for volunteers. This incident serves as a good reminder to see that policies are in place.
These groups can't be expected to operate without a safety net.

Organizations: RCMP and Kicking Horse Resort

Geographic location: Quebec, British Columbia

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