A team of 10 RCMP investigators have begun an examination into the death of snowmobilers Shay Snortland and Kurtis Reynolds following an avalanche last weekend during the Big Iron Shootout at Boulder Mountain outside Revelstoke, B.C.
Police will recommend criminal charges if evidence supports a charge under the Criminal Code, RCMP Corporal Dan Moskaluk stated Tuesday in a news release.
The investigation, which will gather all available information regarding the fatalities, is expected to take some time to complete, he said. "Given the number of people that attended this event, and the uniqueness of the circumstances, it will be a lengthy and complex investigation," he said.
The investigators begin their work as questions are being raised about why snowmobilers ignored explicit warnings of avalanche danger and where organizer David Clark has gone.
Public Safety Minister and B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed announced Monday that regulations for snowmobiling in the back country would be introduced by November, 2011 - but those regulations won't be in place until November, 2011 - leaving snowmobiling unregulated for another winter.
Mr. Heed told reporters the provincial government is looking into a number of new regulations, including licencing, registration of vehicles, insurance and the possibility of temporarily closing mountains at times of high risk of avalanches.
But he categorically ruled out a ban on snowmobiling on provincial land similar to the ban in federal parks. "British Columbia has some of the best outdoor activities [take place]on Crown lands and we want people to enjoy those lands … but we want them to enjoy them responsibly and safely," he said.
He said he believes government action alone will not prevent fatalities.
Two snowmobilers at a backcountry competition were killed and 30 people were injured last weekend in an avalanche on Boulder Mountain outside Revelstoke, B.C. About 200 people were at the event known as the Big Iron Shootout. Eyewitnesses reported a snowmobiler had raced up the flank of the mountain and over the top. A second snowmobiler could not make it to the top and started back down when the snow gave way.
Several of the snowmobilers at Boulder Mountain were from provinces that required registration and insurance, Mr. Heed said. Many operators who went into the backcountry were experienced. On their way into the area, some would have passed a sign that warned of extreme avalanche danger.
"People who went in there ignored that warning," Mr. Heed said. "They made the decision to actually go in there."
No matter what B.C. does as a government, it will be difficult to control and regulate people who decide to engage in risky behaviour, he said. "People need to make those responsible decisions based on experts that tell us when it is dangerous to go in there," he said.
The government could consider announcing that a mountain is closed, Mr. Heed said. But if people are not paying attention to warning signs that are currently in place, he questioned whether they would pay attention to a closure.
Mr. Heed said no decisions have been made. The government requires the next 20 months to develop a comprehensive policy that snowmobilers in B.C. and those who come into the province will understand.
His ministry is working with the ministries of tourism, forest, healthy living and sport to determine a framework for outdoor recreational vehicles.
"A bit of work is to be done yet to determine exactly what we are looking at and how we are going to go about it," he said.
In an interview before his press conference, Mr. Heed noted that B.C. is one of the few Canadian provinces that does not require insurance and registration of snowmobiles. "The backcountry is so vast it's difficult to enforce, but where we know these events are going to take place, we have to have the enforcement rules in place," he said.
He also said the costs for search-and-rescue teams, helicopters and emergency centres will be covered by the provincial government's emergency program.
Some snowmobile enthusiasts dismissed the need for government control over activities in the back country while others questions why the government required until 2011 to bring in regulations.
"Licensing and registration is something that is supported by the B.C. Snowmobile Federation. As an organization under the B.C. Snowmobile Federation, we agree with that," said Angela Threatful, the executive director of the Snowmobile Revelstoke Society.
New Democratic Party critic Mike Farnworth said he did not see any reason why the government could not bring in the new rules this year. He anticipated the government would consult with snowmobilers, review recommendations from previous coroner's reports and see what other provinces have done. "It's not a question of re-inventing the wheel," Mr. Farnworth said. "It's only mid-March now. [The new regulations]would not take that long to put together."
The delay may reflect an unannounced decision by the government to cancel the fall session of the legislature, Mr. Farnworth also said. Mr. Heed would not have an opportunity to bring the changes to the legislature before 2011 without a fall session. "I think the government may have another agenda here," Mr. Farnworth said.
Les Auston, executive director of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation, said in an interview a trail permits system and licencing would provide an address for safety-related materials to be sent.
Dan Hill, a former president of the Cranbrook Snowmobiling Club who has been snowmobiling for 20 years in the back country, said government rules in the back country may be ineffective.
"You cannot legislate what people are going to do in the middle of nowhere," he said. Government licensing of snowmobilers would be nothing more than a "cash grab," he added.
With a report from Nathan Vanderklippe