Beyond having the world’s longest coastline, Canada is a country of clean lakes and rivers. And each year when summer arrives, Canadians know how to enjoy the water — whether it’s in a natural setting or in a swimming pool.
Tragically, however, roughly 500 Canadians die every year as a result of drowning. We were reminded of this just last month when a twenty-three-year-old from Cambridge, Ontario drowned in a river after his canoe capsized.
In a country as developed and educated as Canada, it should come as a shock that more hasn’t been done to prevent these losses. It’s time to start recognizing drowning as a public health issue.
Therefore, to mark this year’s National Lifejacket and Swim Day, we believe, as senators, in the need to raise awareness of this crucial, yet often overlooked, issue. We must break out of this vicious cycle of shock, normalization and repetition.
The vast majority of drowning victims are young men and one-third of drownings are boating-related. Indigenous, northern, rural and new Canadians are also disproportionately affected.
Furthermore, in cases when individuals avoid drowning, they are often left with life-changing brain injuries. Not surprisingly, a large portion of these incidents took place after the consumption of alcohol.
In a country as active as ours often is, we understand how impossible it would be to ask Canadians not to have fun in the summertime. But there’s a simple solution to most of these tragedies: life jackets. Had that young man from Cambridge — or the countless other drowning victims across Canada — been wearing one, we would have had one fewer tragedy.
Other efforts must also be made to strengthen harm-reduction practices — these are lessons for when we’re both in the water and for when we’re just around water.
To this end, we’re collaborating with the World Health Organization to help develop an effective drowning prevention strategy for Canada based on their recent Global Report on Drowning: Preventing a Leading Killer.
Drowning is typically a silent event. When someone is struggling in the water it’s usually hard to help or even notice. This is why people must take personal responsibility for their safety by wearing life jackets.
Swimming is an excellent way to stay fit and have fun — but if you’re going to enjoy the great outdoors on the water, put on a life jacket.
Doug Black is a senator representing Alberta. Nancy Greene Raine is a senator representing British Columbia.