Open Door Society changes hotel pool protocols after refugee, 13, nearly drowns in Saskatoon

The Lifesaving Society, which has been offering swimming lessons and pool safety classes for refugees for years, says many newcomers to Canada do not know how to swim.

Lifesaving Society calls for water safety lessons after incident

The Life Saving Society offers water safety lessons to newcomers. (The Associated Press)

The near drowning of a 13-year-old Syrian refugee in a hotel pool in Saskatoon is raising concerns about language barriers and spurring calls for swimming lessons for new Canadians. 

Shelby Rushton, the CEO of the Saskatchewan branch of the Lifesaving Society, was speaking with CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition on Tuesday, a day after the pool incident.

Few details have been released about what happened. It's not known whether or not the child could swim, or if there were other problems.

However, the issue of newcomers and water safety is well-known, according to Rushton.

"Swimming lessons are key for our new Canadians, as well as public education," she said.

In cases where language is a barrier, pictograms can be important in preventing accidents like this because they can be universally understood, she said.

According to Rushton, pool safety is something that is unfamiliar to many newcomers. 

"The Lifesaving society did some research a couple years ago and we found that new Canadians who have been living in Canada for less than five years are going to be at greater risk for drowning than those of us that were already born here," said Rushton. 

New Canadians are often four times more likely to be not able to swim, and much of that is attributed to not having access to swimming lessons in their native country. 

For the Lifesaving Society, the solution exists in bridging that gap and creating swim safety programs for new immigrants.

The organization has been offering pool safety lessons on dry land for several years. It has also been working with the Regina Open Door society and its translators, Rushton said. 

"One of the things we can do now is reach out to the hotel pools and to the hotels. Unfortunately it's going to take an incident like this to make us step up and be more aware and have a call for action," she said.

Meanwhile, the boy who was transported to the Royal University Hospital in serious condition is doing well, the Open Door Society says.

Open Door Society changes safety protocols

After the near drowning of the young refugee, the Open Door Society has changed its protocols around children staying in hotels. 

"We added some extra measures in the way that we address safety at the hotel and that is not to allow any children under 18 to use the swimming pool and the gym, that's for their own safety," executive director Ali Abukar said.

Previously, children were allowed in the pool and the gym as long as there was supervision from an adult.