Manitoba

Province to review beach safety after Grand Beach drownings

The deaths of two children at Grand Beach is prompting the Manitoba government to review beach safety in the province. Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said the review will start as soon as possible.

David Medina, 12, and Jhonalyn Javier, 11, drowned in Lake Winnipeg on Terry Fox Day

The province has completed a review of the beach safety program that was initiated after the drownings of two children at Grand Beach last August. (CBC)

The deaths of two children at Grand Beach is prompting the Manitoba government to review beach safety in the province. Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said the review will start as soon as possible.

"We're going to review the entire program to see how effective it is in light of this enormous tragedy," Cox said Thursday.

"We want to make sure something like this doesn't happen again on our beaches."

David Medina, 12, and Jhonalyn Javier, 11 — both newcomers who arrived with their families from the Philippines in recent years — drowned on Monday evening.

RCMP said the children went missing as the sun was setting. Their bodies were recovered a short time later by beach safety officers.

Currently no lifeguards are on duty at Manitoba beaches. Instead beach safety officers, who have lifeguard certification, provide water safety tips to parents but do not supervise waters.

The safety officers are "highly trained individuals," said Cox.
Cox said the province may look into expanding water safety programs at St. Malo and Birds Hill parks to other beaches in light of the recent deaths. (CBC)

The minister said they have an important role to play in alerting parents to risky situations.

"Conditions change and they can change very rapidly so we know they do a good job of education," said Cox.

"They are in kayaks they walk up and down the beaches they will tell a parent if they see something that's a safety hazard or safety concern … They're definitely a real asset."

When asked about whether some beach safety officers may be replaced with lifeguards, Cox said everything is under review.

Free life vests an option: Cox

Other possible changes to enhance safety might include capping the number of people allowed on beaches at one time, similar to the rules in place at Birds Hill Park, and providing life vests to weak swimmers free of charge, said Cox.

St. Malo Provincial Park provides loaner life vests and the minister said the program could lower the risk of drowning for new Canadians who may not be strong swimmers.

A 2010 study by the Lifesaving Society found that immigrants are four times more likely to be unable to swim than their Canadian-born counterparts.

Currently there are no year-round, regular swimming programs specifically geared towards new Canadians in Manitoba.

"We do need to modernize the program based on that," Cox said.

She added Manitoba does have many general swimming programs, including in Winnipeg where Medina and Javier lived.

"As a mum and a grandmother I know the importance of learning to swim and I think there's lots of opportunities for Manitobans to participate in swimming programs," said Cox.

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