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The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. A report from a Canadian Senate committee says the Canadian Coast Guard needs to be empowered, for the sake of saving lives.

Following a review of the Maritime Search-and-Rescue system, the Fisheries and Oceans Committee recommends that “the Canadian Coast Guard be established as a separate statutory agency, reporting to the Minister of Transport.”

The Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), in 1995, as part of the Jean Chretien government’s cost-saving measures.

Committee Chair, Sen. Fabian Manning says, “Right now, it’s operating over to the side and we believe it will be more effective, more efficient if it was operating on its own.” “They would be able to more or less, oversee their own operation. Have more say in capital expenditures, more say in revenue generation, more say in how the product is delivered to Canadians.” A DFO spokesperson thanked the committee for their report in a statement on Thursday.

“We thank the Senate committee for their important work,” said Jocelyn Lubczuk. “The safety of those at sea is our top priority and we will be reviewing the recommendations carefully.” READ MORE: Record number of fishing industry deaths, employee fatigue highlight 2018 TSB safety watchlist

Other recommendations include Transport Canada imposing the mandatory use of emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBS) “to vessels in all fishing fleets.”

Manning suggests there’s a gap in safety.

“Our information leads us to believe that pretty well over half the vessels that ply the waters, especially small and medium-sized vessels, that do not have EPIRBS.”

The devices cost between $250 and $1,000, apiece.

The senators also want the Canadian Coast Guard to “establish additional primary search and rescue stations in the Canadian Arctic to meet the growing demand in areas where marine activity is forecasted to increase.”

And there’s a call to focus on attracting and retaining Indigenous cadets and employees.

“We really want to engage the Indigenous communities, both on the North and on the West Coast,” says Sen. Jim Munson.

“They know the land better than us and they know the sea better than us. And they have proved over and over again to be first responders — not being asked to be, but they’re there.” Munson says there are other search-and-rescue gaps, in the North.

He says Quebec Coast Guard auxiliary members are not allowed to carry guns in rescue vessels, even though some rescuers report encountering polar bears.

Coast Guard employees in Iqaluit speak English and French, but not the popular local language, Inuktitut. He says the shortcoming can delay rescues by crucial minutes.

As a pilot project, the committee recommends the Department of National Defence authorize a civilian helicopter operator to provide aeronautical search-and-rescue coverage in the Canadian Arctic and in Newfoundland and Labrador.Manning says a private operator might help reduce search times, especially for emergencies that happen outside of daytime hours, when search-and-rescue crews have left military bases. Munson hopes the study doesn’t just gather dust.“We want this government to act on this report. And if government heeds our recommendations, this report may save lives.”

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