Insurance S.O.S.

Search-and-rescue groups say they want the federal government to help pay for liability and accident insurance for their volunteers or risk having them quit or emergency services withdrawn.

EDMONTON — Search-and-rescue groups say they want the federal government to help pay for liability and accident insurance for their volunteers or risk having them quit or emergency services withdrawn.

The Search and Rescue Association of Canada has requested a meeting with Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to ask for $400,000 annually.

Harry Blackmore, the association’s president, said the insurance would cover about 12,000 volunteers from 338 ground search-and-rescue teams across Canada.

Provinces and territories could chip in later, he said.

“If we can get the federal minister to kick in on it now and get it put in place because disasters are going to happen,” Blackmore said from Newfoundland.

“Teams are being used for more and more stuff. We are saying … enough is enough. It is a reason we are starting to lose people,” he said.

“People are getting very, very worried. You go out at 2 o’clock in the morning to find someone who is lost, and the next thing, something happens and you are sued and lawyers are coming after you for everything they can get.”

Federal public safety officials were not available for comment.

In August, the British Columbia government became the first province to offer liability insurance to its search-and-rescue volunteers.

The province acted after a search society in Golden, B.C., suspended operations when it was sued by a Quebec man whose wife had died while backcountry skiing.

The B.C. case has brought the issue of liability insurance for search-and-rescue volunteers to a boil across Canada.

On Monday, a group in Nova Scotia warned it may be forced to withdraw emergency services if it can’t get better insurance protection. The Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Association has given the government two weeks to respond.

In Alberta, officials say their volunteers are growing increasingly frustrated at the provincial government’s lack of a response to their request for liability and accident insurance.

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