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New Canadians need integration into water Add to ...

In the words of Margaret Atwood, Canada has so much water, children are more than likely to fall into it at one time or another. They should be equipped to survive.

According to a new study by Ipsos Reid, recent immigrants to Canada accept that swimming is a necessary life skill. But one-fifth do not know how to swim - four times the rate of those born in Canada, says the poll, the first of its kind to examine the influence of ethnicity on attitudes and behaviours toward water safety.

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That means new Canadians, many of whom did not learn to swim in their countries of origin, are at a much higher risk of drowning. More attention must be given to make sure newcomers know how and where to enroll themselves and their children in formal swim classes.

Municipal governments should be encouraged not to shut down public school pools, but instead to expand access to swim classes for primary and secondary school students. Employers of nannies who enter the country under the live-in caregiver program could also consider assisting their employees to register for classes.

The Lifesaving Society, a charitable organization that commissioned the poll, has already developed a program called "Swim to Survive," which teaches Grade 3 students across the country the minimum standard of swimming ability needed to survive an unexpected fall into a lake or river. The society offers information about this program, as well as tips about boating safety, in several dozen languages, including Gujarati, Mandarin, Russian, Tagalog and Spanish. Immigrants overwhelmingly found these translations an effective tool in encouraging people to swim, according to the poll.

These are excellent initiatives. More communication and education on the importance of learning to swim are vital. Half of all immigrants who have arrived here recently from elsewhere fear their children may drown, and 42 per cent are nervous about being on a boat, compared with 26 per cent of those born in Canada.

They are right to be fearful. Drownings are on the rise, and are the second largest cause of preventable death for children under the age of 10. Two-thirds occur in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and waterfalls.

Water safety shouldn't just be for people born in Canada. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn to swim.

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