Opinion

NELSON: Why single out skiers to pay bills for irresponsible behaviour?

FACE TO FACE: Should out-of-bounds skiers and boarders pay for their rescue?

Sebastian Boucher, an Ottawa snowboarder, is being billed $10,000 by Cypress Mountain to help defray his recent rescue.

On cue, angry bloggers (and at least one Tri-City News columnist) enthusiastically proclaim support.

“It’s about time... if they won’t hang him (which we might prefer), then make him pay $10,000 or even $20,000” or whatever Cypress Mountain, a private company, arbitrarily decides he owes for its rescue efforts; gas, helicopter depreciation, lost sleep, double-time salary, coffee and doughnuts.

Please, we’re better than this. We shouldn’t be billing people we save from peril.

Rescue efforts are humanitarian and altruistic. They are undertaken to save people, even those who make stupid decisions or disastrous mistakes.

We save flood, fire and tornado victims, even if they didn’t evacuate or respond properly to repeated weather or evacuation warnings.

We perform heart surgery, even on people who made stupid dietary decisions bound to cost us all, and who ignored the many warnings and danger signs along the way.

But we don’t present them with a bill for such humanitarian services; otherwise, they’re not humanitarian.

Mr. Boucher made a stupid decision, one that almost cost him his life. His harrowing experience both punished and deterred him; he won’t reoffend and he doesn’t need further deterrence or punishment.

North Shore Rescue volunteers don’t want people to be billed for rescues. Its members say doing so would discourage missing people from seeking rescue and encourage ill-trained friends and family to bumble off into dangerous wilderness areas to avoid professional rescuer costs.

North Shore Rescue also says billing people for rescue might even encourage victims to hide from rescuers and take escape risks they wouldn’t normally take, all to save a few bucks.

Mr. Boucher’s rescue is a happy story. We should be applauding the rescuers and his saved life rather than demanding recompense almost before his toes have warmed up.

We need to lighten up. Shrill demands for harsh punishments seek not deterrence, but vengeance.

If a judge feels restorative justice is appropriate, he can assign the rescued person to help raise money for North Shore Rescue or to perform related civic service.

And if Cypress Mountain considers rescues too costly, it is within its rights to decline to participate.

Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.

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