Child’s death raises drowning toll to 40

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MONTREAL - The death of a 16-month-old child Wednesday morning after she somehow gained access to the family pool in Kirkland brings to 40 the number of drownings recorded so far this year in Quebec.
It’s a statistic rendered all the more disquieting by the fact that only 27 deaths had been recorded in the province at the same time last year.
That deadly spike in the numbers – five deaths were recorded last weekend alone – has led the provincial government to decide it will fund survival swimming classes in elementary schools. As well, safety experts question whether there’s a fatal disconnect between Quebecers and water safety.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said the classes will primarily be introduced only to schools that show interest in them, and that covering the costs of the program would be an incentive for these schools to participate.
The even grimmer reality behind the drowning toll is that, despite the headlines and public pain of those who have lost loved ones beneath Quebec’s waters, this year is shaping up to be unextraordinary when it comes to drowning deaths.
“If we look at things in context, if we look at things from when we started our prevention programs, there’s been a drop (in drowning deaths),” said Diane Théberge of the Quebec Lifesaving Society.
“In the 1990s, the average annual drowning rate in Quebec was 125. By the next decade, that had dropped to 80 deaths a year.”
But even if this year is remarkable only when compared to the same six months examined in 2011, the frequency of those deaths over the summer months and their circumstances make Lifesaving Society director Raynald Hawkins wonder if any of the message his group has been trying to convey for the past 17 years is still getting through.
“Am I frustrated? I’m more disappointed to see that, despite all of the public messages we’ve been putting out, people still think it can’t happen to them,” Hawkins told The Gazette on Wednesday.
“Nobody wants it to happen. But there’s that false sentiment that it’s going to happen to someone else.”
Hawkins did say that nevertheless the number of drownings in Quebec has dropped over the 17 years his group has been organizing Drowning Prevention Weeks (this year’s edition begins July 23).
“But unfortunately it takes something like this morning’s (drowning) to re-focus the public’s attention on the issue and ask the 300,000 pool owners in Quebec that even if the law doesn’t oblige them to have a fence around their pool, why they don’t do so anyway, particularly if they are the parents or grandparents of young children?” he said.
But older pools are only regulated by municipal bylaws, which don’t necessarily call for a fence.
Some cities have updated their bylaws since 2010 to match the provincial law, but weak or non-existent enforcement means that some owners may be ignorant of the requirements or ignore them with impunity.
Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay acknowledged that the agglomeration council for Montreal Island could look into “optimizing security by harmonizing best practices” when it comes to safety criteria at public and private pools.
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