Make no mistake about it, the more than 1,000 volunteers of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue service deserve our gratitude.
The volunteers who operate the 33 marine rescue stations work in some of the most challenging waters in the world and willingly leave their jobs and families to perform rescues and offer help, no matter how rough the seas.
They are on-call 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and for that, they deserve our respect.
But no organization is immune to scrutiny, and the search and rescue service is no exception.
A recent, serious training accident caused several past members of Sooke’s Station 37 to come forward to highlight what they said are systemic problems with the service that they say made the accident inevitable.
They raised issues about the culture of the organization and made allegations about the behaviour of some of the volunteers. They also cited the fact that station chiefs are elected by the volunteers, a system they say opens the door to cronyism and the development of negative organizational cultures.
Past crew members also spoke of how the service is funded and revealed that volunteers are required to do fundraising for essential materials so they can do their jobs.
While the training accident that sent three crew members to the hospital was a terrible occurrence, it may have a positive outcome if the promised, fulsome investigation of the accident’s root causes actually happens.
That investigation should include an examination of the administration of the marine rescue stations and the oversight of those stations.
It should examine whether it’s time to mature beyond the popular election of the station chiefs and on to the installation of paid, professional staff to head up the stations, much in the way that most volunteer fire departments operate.
And it’s time to take a serious look at funding for this essential service and do away with the need for the people who are charged with life-saving activities on our waters to conduct bottle drives to buy the basic equipment they need to do the job.
There are a lot of issues to be examined, and hopefully, the Canadian Coast Guard’s investigation of the incident will go beyond the one accident to examine the flaws in the system that may have laid the foundation for its occurrence.