Canada

High cost of rescue dissuades lost B.C. hikers from calling for help

Who should pay for a mountain rescue?

John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

There are a few reasons why hikers lost on B.C.’s North Shore mountains might object to being rescued: ego, perhaps, or not wanting to be a burden. But a young man trapped on Grouse Mountain in late July eschewed help for another reason entirely. The hiker, who bushwhacked for hours after becoming disoriented, called authorities to ask how to get on track—but made it clear he didn’t want them to start a search: It would cost too much.

“He said, ‘I’m broke, I can’t afford this rescue,’ ” says Tim Jones, team leader at North Shore Rescue, a volunteer search-and-rescue team in North Vancouver. Perplexed, Jones told the hiker that North Shore Rescue has never charged anyone for a rescue.

The incident highlights a debate in the province over whether to fine adventurers for rescue missions. In December, it took three days and tens of thousands of dollars to locate Sébastien Boucher, a snowboarder who went out of bounds on Cypress Mountain. Cypress intended to charge Boucher $10,000, to be donated to search and rescue, before relenting in exchange for Boucher’s participation in a public awareness campaign.

Jones says Cypress had good intentions, but such a policy can discourage those in trouble from seeking help. In another recent case, a mother with two children wandered Grouse dehydrated but fearful of being penalized for calling rescuers. In some cases, says Jones, people will wait until nightfall to ask for help, putting volunteers at greater risk.

“People come to our province and spend tons of money on tourism,” he says. “There should be a safety net when they get into trouble. We don’t believe that safety net should be something they should have to pay for.”

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.