British Columbia

Toddler dead in suspected drowning in New Westminster, B.C.

Police are investigating the suspected drowning of a two-year-old child in New Westminster, B.C., Wednesday evening.

Major Crimes Unit and BC Coroners Service investigating the incident but don't suspect foul play

Biftu Taju, 2, died Wednesday night after apparently drowning in a ditch in front of her home in New Westminster, B.C. (Amin Jundi)

Police are investigating the suspected drowning of a two-year-old girl in New Westminster, B.C., on Wednesday evening. 

A family friend has identified the girl as Biftu Taju. 

Jan Pazurik, the landlord of the home near where Taju was found, says police told him she likely drowned in a ditch that runs in front of the row of homes on the street.

Officers say they responded to a call in the 300 block of Stanley Street at 11 p.m. PT.

The girl was taken to hospital, where she died. 

The Major Crime Unit is investigating the cause of death with the BC Coroners Service. Police say foul play is not suspected.

Pazurik says the family has been been renting the home for the past four years.

He said the family is originally from Africa and includes six children, as well as the two parents. 

"They're just a really nice group of people and they're just putting their kids through school and living a normal Canadian life," he said.

"We're pretty upset about this whole thing. It's quite a shock. We're certainly going to be there for them."

A toddler appears to have drowned in the culvert in front of this home in New Westminster, B.C. (Meera Bains/CBC)

Problem ditch

Pazurik went to the house early Thursday morning after he got a text from a neighbour saying police were there. 

When he arrived, there was police tape around the home. That's when he says an officer told him the girl had likely drowned in the culvert.

"The ditch is always particularly high and me and many other neighbour have made many, many, many attempts to get the city to keep or clear the beaver dam that is farther down," Pazurik said.

The city had dealt with the issue on several occasions, he added, but the problem had been ongoing for the past few years. 

Jim Lowry, New Westminster's director of engineering, confirmed the city had been dealing with a beaver in the area as  recently about a month ago. 

But Lowry said the beaver dam wasn't causing the water backlog in the ditch. Instead, he said the house is in the Queensborough neighbourhood of Lulu Island — a low-lying floodplain area — and has a high water table. 

Ditches are common throughout the area, he said, and properties owners can petition the city to put in covered storm drains. Owners then split those costs with the city and pay for their share over a 20-year period.

Lowry said the city had not received a petition to do so from property owners in the area.