Quebec study sheds light on frequency, severity of drownings among children

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Drowning deaths rising in some provinces'
Health Matters: Drowning deaths rising in some provinces
WATCH: As people across Canada prepare their pools for the summer and others head to cottages and beaches, experts are asking for water safety to be at the top of mind. According to experts, drowning rates spike in the summer, and incidents can happen silently within seconds. Katherine Ward has this story and more in Health Matters for May 29, 2024. – May 29, 2024

Geneviève Daigneault always makes sure to keep an eye on her daughter Charlotte whenever the two go swimming.

“You can lose your kids really, really fast,” she stressed while watching her daughter at the beach in Verdun. “You need to look at them all the time. All the time. Every second.”

She should know. The former lifeguard has seen her share of near tragedies.

“I saw a lot of kids that were drowning,” she told Global News, “so I tried to help them and I brought them back to their mom or dad and I said, ‘You need to watch them.'”

That’s the same message Dr. Hussein Wissanji has. The pediatric surgeon at the Montreal Children’s Hospital just released a study which concludes that every day this summer, one child will end up at an emergency room in the province for drowning, or near drowning.

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Click to play video: 'Quebec study sheds light on frequency, severity of drownings among children'
Quebec study sheds light on frequency, severity of drownings among children

“A lot of adults think about water as something pleasant and relaxing and safe,” he argues. “But when we think about children, we should reframe it and think of it like a flame.”

You don’t leave your child alone with an open fire, so don’t do it with water either, he advises. According to him, for every drowning death, there are 10 near-drowning events where the child ends up in the emergency room. Most victims are toddlers.

“What our study shows is that the vast majority of drowning events were without active supervision, or when there was a gap in the supervision,” he noted.

According to Raynald Hawkins, executive director for the Quebec Lifesaving Society, there were 82 drownings in the province last year, which includes 13 people under the age of 17.

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There’s one already this season — a 2-year-old who drowned in a residential swimming pool near Quebec City on Monday.

Hawkins stresses that drowning is silent, and fast.

“Only 15 to 30 seconds,” he points out, “so you really don’t have time to do other tasks than supervise the kids directly. And if you have to leave give this responsibility to another adult.”

Also, Hawkins cautions, make sure that backyard pools are fenced in so kids cannot access them. As of September 30, 2025 all pools built before November 2010 must have a fence installed around them.

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