Lifesaving Society calling for inquest into string of recent drowning deaths

A team of searchers head out on the water at Birds Hill Provincial Park.
A team of searchers head out on the water at Birds Hill Provincial Park. Global News

WINNIPEG — After three very public drownings in less than a month, the Lifesaving Society of Manitoba is calling on the province’s Chief Medical Officer to hold an inquest.

At the beginning of August, two young children drowned at Grand Beach after one of the children’s parents lost sight of the kids playing in the water while the sun was setting.

READ MORE: Friends identify 2 children who drowned at Grand Beach

On Saturday, a 22-year-old newcomer slipped under the water at Birds Hill Provincial Park mid-afternoon and was later pronounced dead.

READ MORE: Man pulled from water at Birds Hill Park Saturday had just become a Canadian citizen

“We’re looking at the Chief Medical Officer of the province to call an inquest,” said Carl Shier, CEO of the Lifesaving Society of Manitoba. “Given the time it’s been since the last inquest on beach safety, it’s probably a likelihood that this is an opportunity.”

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Shier said there needs to be an impartial look at what occurred to see if changes need to be implemented.

“Usually a judge’s findings are implemented and when they say this is what needs to be done, then that is what gets done,” said Shier.

There have not been lifeguards at provincial beaches since 1990; around the time the last inquest was conducted.

Beach Safety Officer at Birds Hill Provincial Park.
Beach Safety Officer at Birds Hill Provincial Park. Global News

Since then Manitoba has had Beach Safety Officers who are certified as lifeguards but do not supervise the water.

WATCH: The Lifesaving Society of Manitoba talks about drownings

LIfesaving Society on drowning prevention
LIfesaving Society on drowning prevention

The Beach Safety Program in Manitoba provincial parks focuses on public water safety education.  The province said Beach Safety Officers work actively to ensure that families and people enjoying the beach are aware of the risks of being in the water. These officers alertly respond to potentially life threatening situations and work closely with emergency services on lifesaving efforts.

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The province refused an interview request by Global News Monday but released a statement on behalf of Minister Cathy Cox.

The Manitoba Government is in the process of reviewing the entire program to ensure its effectiveness. It will be important to look at modernizing the beach safety program to make sure we are properly communicating and reaching all members of the public who enjoy our beaches.

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While findings from an inquest could take a significant amount of time there are changes the Lifesaving Society wants to see happen right away.

The society has a “Swim to Survive” program that has been implemented for all grade three children province-wide in Ontario. It has also been taught in Northern Manitoba for the past ten years and according to the society it has significantly reduced drowning deaths.

“Teaching someone to swim is so important. We teach our youngsters how to skate, how to ride a bike and we could teach them how to swim to survive,” said Shier. “They learn those skills very easily. The Lifesaving Society has devised a course that is very short in time and it’s not swimming lessons. It’s swim survival lessons and we think every child should have that opportunity.”

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The swim survival program is not meant to teach children to become prolific swimmers. It is meant to give kids the minimum skills needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water.

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A Swim to Survive class in Ontario.
A Swim to Survive class in Ontario. Global News

These are expressed in a skill sequence in the Canadian Swim to Survive standard:

  • Roll into deep water
  • Tread water for one minute
  • Swim 50 metres

The program is funded through a corporation in Ontario but is subsidized by the province in northern Manitoba.