Parental action, water safety classes key at preventing drownings: expert

A recent spate of drowning incidents in Ontario and Quebec has led to renewed calls for more vigilance around water and making swimming lessons part of the school curriculum.

The issue was top of mind Tuesday following the death of a six-year-old who was pulled from a Montreal pool. A lifeguard had been on duty and several other people were swimming nearby when the incident happened Monday, officials said.

Also Monday, a 13-year-old girl was pulled from a small lake at a campground in southwestern Ontario and later died in hospital. And last week, a five-year-old girl and her mother drowned in an unsupervised pool at a resort west of Collingwood, Ont.

Lifeguards are a great preventative measure, said Barbara Byers, of the Lifesaving Society, a charity devoted to preventing drownings.

“If they’re guarding at a pool and they see a non-swimmer, they’ll make sure the non-swimmer stays in the shallow area, they’ll make sure they stay away from the drop-off, they’ll make sure they have a parent within arm’s reach.”

Less than one per cent of drownings in Ontario and Quebec occur in “lifeguard-supervised” environments, said Byers.

But parents and guardians should always keep a close eye on their children when they’re in the water, she suggested.

“We always tell parents that lifeguards aren’t babysitters.”

Teaching kids to swim is among the best ways to prevent drownings, Byers added.

“Swimming requires instruction,” she said. ”We’re not fish. We don’t just have the ability to learn how to swim on our own.”

“If we can ensure that all kids learn these skills during school time, then we can provide them with that training, irrespective of whether the parents are aware of the need for the children to learn how to swim,” Byers said.

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