Spike in drownings in Quebec amid warm weather, limited summer travel

With a more than 40 per cent increase in drownings compared to last year, the deputy premier and Lifesaving Society ask the public to be careful, and to not swim alone.

Lifesaving Society warning parents of dangers of multitasking while supervising children

A 19-year-old man drowned in the Sainte-Anne River just last weekend. The Quebec division of the Lifesaving Society says it is always best to have someone with you when boating or swimming in open water. (Joane Bérubé/Radio-Canada)

This summer has been a particularly deadly one on Quebec's waters so far, with 52 people drowning so far — compared to 36 at the same point last year.

"Fifty-two deaths means 52 families. It leaves people in mourning. It leaves orphans," said Quebec deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault Monday afternoon. 

Guilbault urged Quebecers to follow safety measures. 

"If you don't know how to swim, don't go in the water. Don't go alone," she said. "If you want to have beautiful vacation anecdotes instead of tragedy, be prudent." 

As the two-week construction holiday period gets underway, the Lifesaving Society is concerned that number could rise even further. 

Raynald Hawkins, executive director of the Lifesaving Society's Quebec division, believes there are two main reasons behind this increase in drowning incidents.

With borders closed due to COVID-19, many are choosing to explore the province or spend their vacation at home instead.

And because Quebec is seeing such warm weather, many are choosing to spend their time in or near the water. 

Hawkins said that, regardless of how experienced a swimmer you are, it is not recommended to swim in open waters, as currents are often unpredictable.

"We always recommend you have another person with you when you want to do your bathing or boating activities," said Hawkins. 

Three men drowned in the province this past Saturday alone. A man in his 60s died while swimming in Lac Doré in Val-David, a 19-year-old man drowned while swimming in the St. Anne River in Quebec's Portneuf region and a 59-year-old man died after falling out of a boat in the St. Maurice River in La Tuque. 

Hawkins said many still don't wear a life jacket when boating because they assume they won't end up in the water.

"This is the time of the year when we have the most drowning situations in Quebec," Hawkins said. 

According to the Lifesaving Society, the majority of drowning deaths occur in backyard pools and open water.

Working from home adds to danger, Hawkins says

Raynald Hawkins, executive director of the Lifesaving Society in Quebec, says parents need to keep their undivided attention on their children when swimming. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Hawkins said that the increase in parents working from home this summer also factors in to the increase in drownings, as parents juggle watching their children while working on the job.

In an Allstate Canada poll conducted last week in partnership with the Lifesaving Society, 43 per cent of the 200 Quebecers who took part said they planned on working while supervising their child in a backyard swimming pool.

Nine per cent said they didn't plan on supervising their child at all. 

"We ask everyone to not combine work and supervising the kids," said Hawkins. 

"You need to supervise the kids without any distractions because drowning is a silent killer. For toddlers, it's very fast, less than 30 seconds."

Hawkins recommends that parents come up with fixed schedules for their backyard pools, so that children know the pool is off-limits when their parent is working. 

With files from Lauren McCallum