This photo shows the Surf Guard tower that was taken down following the program’s cancellation in 2012. Incinerator Rock, which was the scene of two fatal ocean accidents in 2018, can be seen in the bottom right corner. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

VIDEO: MP Gord Johns continues urging Liberals to bring lifeguards back to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Courtenay-Alberni MP says lifeguards are needed at popular surfing spot between Tofino and Ucluelet

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns continues to push Canada’s Liberal government to restore the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s surf guard program that provided lifeguards at Long Beach before being shut down in 2012.

Johns stood in the House of Commons on Friday and urged the government to restore the program, calling the decision by the Conservative Government to cancel the program “reckless.”

“Prior to its cancellation, this lifesaving program was in place for almost 40 years and was responsible for saving dozens if not hundreds of lives,” he said.

READ MORE: Behest of the West: Bring back the surf guard tower

The program included a Surf Guard tower that overlooked Incinerator Rock, where two people lost their lives in ocean accidents in 2018—University of Victoria student Nijin John suffered a fatal surfing accident in February and Ann Wittenberg of Ottawa died hours before her daughter’s wedding in Tofino in May.

READ MORE: Woman who died in ocean accident near Tofino was in town for daughter’s wedding

READ MORE: GoFundMe page identifies UVic student as surfer who died near Tofino

Johns noted that a CFB Cormorant Helicopter and Canadian Coast Guard vessel was called upon to rescue a group of youth stranded on the rock in March of this year.

“The communities and the families want to know, how many fatalities and rescues will it take before this government does the right thing and reinstates this lifesaving program,” he said.

READ MORE: Four stranded by surging seas on a rock off Long Beach

In his response, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard Sean Casey did not mention the Surf Guard program, but spoke to the federal government’s support of the Coast Guard.

“This government has made the largest investment in fleet renewal for the Canadian Coast Guard in its history. We’re putting forward a plan that will provide the Coast Guard with the right equipment while promoting economic growth and creating good paying jobs across the country,” he said.

“The fleet renewal is needed as the average age of a large ship in the Canadian Coast Guard is 38 years old. They’re nearing the end of their service lives. This government is reinvesting in the coast guard to protect the communities that are affected and the people that make their living on the water.”

Immediately following the March rescue at Incinerator Rock, Ucluelet resident Justin Merk launched a petition to the House of Commons to reinstate the surf guard program, which gained 829 signatures and included support from Ann Wittenberg’s daughter Victoria Orr.

“100% I think a surf guard is needed there,” Orr told the Westerly News in April. “I’m so happy Justin started this petition, and included me and my sister in it. If this can prevent just one accident, I think it is worth it. I never want anyone to go through what our family did.”

READ MORE: Dramatic rescue renews Tofino and Ucluelet’s pleas to bring lifeguards back to Long Beach

READ MORE: EDITORIAL: Restore the Surf Guard program at Long Beach



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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