Actualités By CBC News 326 Views

Drowning-related 911 calls on the rise in Montreal, but swimming lessons remain hard to access

The death of a 10-year-old boy in Quebec City last month, coupled with an increase in drowning-related calls to Urgences-Santé, has some advocates saying parents need to be more careful than ever about letting their children be around water.

On Monday, Urgences-Santé sent out a news release saying that ambulances had responded to 20 drowning-related calls during the month of June in Montreal and Laval.

The service notes that this represents a "significant increase" from the same period last year, when it responded to four calls in June of 2020.

Raynald Hawkins, executive director of the Quebec branch of the Lifesaving Society, said the increase can be attributed to the hot weather and the pandemic restrictions that limit international travel.

"We've never sold so many pools, water sport equipment, Sea-Doos, boats. And when it's hot, people want to be near water," said Hawkins.

Hawkins said that it's a shame that many children have not had access to swimming lessons due to the pandemic.

"This is 15 months where we have no swimming lessons," said Hawkins.

When it comes to kids, Hawkins said supervision is key.

"No remote work, no gardening. And when there's a party, one adult should be designated to watch the kids. Because on those occasions, everyone thinks that the others are looking," he said.

The Lifesaving Society offers swimming lessons funded by the Education Ministry in schools that request the service, teaching students in Grades 3 and 4 basic survival skills in water.

In 2019, 20,000 students got the training. The lessons have been put on pause due to the pandemic, but Hawkins is hoping they will resume soon.

'A perfect storm'

Adam Di Fulvio, president and CEO of the Montreal Institute of Swimming, told CBC that people are keen to get their kids enrolled in lessons, but that his company has a waiting list of 400 families.

"It's really hard to get swimming lessons these days. Between the fact that some centres are still not yet offering full programming, and because pools have capacity restrictions, and there's an ongoing staffing shortage. So there's a perfect storm of events that have come together to lead to the massive shortage of availability of swimming levels."

Di Fulvio said that the pause in swimming classes has hurt the skills of kids who took lessons before the pandemic.

"There is a clear and visible regression of all the kids that used to swim pre-pandemic, all the ones that have returned now we see that they have regressed in their swimming abilities. Kids that have just learned how to swim have regressed to non-swimmers," he said."

"It's almost getting urgent that we need to get these kids back in the pool and give them instruction right away."