NEWS

Oka drowning deaths preventable, expert says

05/29/2012 09:06 EDT | Updated 07/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Nearly 500 people attended the funeral on Monday for one of the two young men who drowned over the weekend at Oka beach.

Even as mourners expressed their sorrow, friends of Dharmesh Bhai Patel and lifesaving experts speculated that the deaths could have been prevented.

Patel, 19, and his friend Dilpreet Singh, 22, were wading in the shallow waters of Lake of Two Mountains with five others when they slipped in over their heads at around 2 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The beach at Oka provincial park, on the north shore of the lake, just northwest of Montreal Island’s western tip, is mostly shallow, but has steep dropoffs in some places.

The beach doesn’t officially open with lifeguards until June, but because of the warm weather, people were allowed to swim — with signs warning that they were doing so at their own risk.

Still, Mukesh Patel, a friend of Dharmesh Bhai Patel’s family, said someone should have been there to ensure safety.

“It's supposed to be checked. Somebody — the inspector of the lifeguard, or — somebody has to check before they open,” he said.

Singh and Dharmesh Bhai Patel worked together at a lighting company and were at Oka beach with friends to celebrate: Singh's wife had just gotten her visa and was going to move to Montreal.

Their deaths are the 15th and 16th drownings in Quebec this year.

New Canadians at risk

Raynald Hawkins, executive director of Quebec's lifesaving society, agreed that the disaster could have been prevented, saying warning signs aren’t enough.

“In those earlier seasons, I think it will be preferred to have lifeguards on duty when we open the beaches,” Hawkins said.

He added that immigrants are involved in a disproportionate number drowning deaths in Quebec and Canada, in large part because new Canadians are four times less likely to know how to swim than people born in Canada.

“We know those ethnic populations come from other countries [where it] is not inside their culture to go in the water. So that’s why they maybe they have to learn more about that,” Hawkins said.

A lifesaving society campaign called Swim to Survive is trying to make swimming lessons more widely available to people, Hawkins said.

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