By Peter Moon
THUNDER BAY – A group of Canadian Rangers from Northern Ontario has completed a challenging two weeks of search and rescue training with the Ontario Provincial Police.
‘It’s been a great course because the OPP have given us an opportunity to learn how to do a better job of searching for missing people,” said Master Corporal Jason Hunter of Peawanuck, a fly-in community close to the Hudson Bay coast, and a veteran of several search and rescue missions.
The small Cree community still takes much of its food off the land through traditional hunting and fishing, he said, “and life can be dangerous if you are not careful in what you are doing when you are on the land.”
As a result members of the local Ranger patrol are called upon every year to conduct search and rescue missions when local people go missing or are overdue.
The training took place at Canadian Forces Base Borden, near Barrie, and was conducted both in a classroom setting and outdoors, in daylight and at night, at various locations around the base. It concluded with two realistic exercises searching for missing persons along the base’s Pine River and in Mono Cliffs Provincial Park.
The training was basically the same that members of the OPP’s elite Emergency Response Teams receive in search and rescue.
The Rangers, who are part-time army reservists, have a unique relationship with the OPP. They are the only Rangers in Canada who receive police training in search and rescue and have a formal agreement to do search and rescue on behalf of the police. The OPP is the lead agency for search and rescue in Ontario, a role assumed by the Quebec provincial police in Quebec, and the RCMP in the rest of Canada.
While the OPP has prime responsibility for search and rescue in Ontario, assembling a trained OPP search and rescue team and getting a plane to fly them into a remote First Nation may take up to eight hours or longer, depending on the weather, said Sergeant John Meaker, the OPP’s provincial search and rescue coordinator. By then, he said, the Rangers have usually found the missing person or persons.
“If we did not have the Rangers it would be a huge problem for us,” he said. “They have local knowledge of their communities that we do not have. They know who’s related to who, who has gone to a particular trap line or hunting cabin before. They usually know the missing person. They know their hunting areas. They are experts on the land. Every time we train with them they teach us things we do not know about being on the land.
“They have tremendous pride in wearing their red sweaters and pride in actually doing a mission for a humanitarian purpose, to save a life.”
The periodic search and rescue training courses the OPP provides for selected Rangers are of huge value, said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, who commands the 650 Rangers in 24 First Nations across the Far North of Northern Ontario. “It allows the Rangers to learn valuable skills that make them better citizens by being able to provide an invaluable service to their communities,” he said. “It makes them indispensable in emergency life and death situations like search and rescue.
“You can’t put a dollar figure on the value of the OPP training. The OPP gives us the time of their officers and the benefits of their specialist training. And the Rangers save lives every year. It is a tremendous partnership.”