A three-year-old Edmonton girl has died after being left inside a parked car while temperatures soared to 43C outside, with the humidex. A similar incident in Milton, Ont., took the life of a two-year-old boy whose funeral was held Wednesday.
The two cases – and another Edmonton incident Tuesday in which three children escaped harm after being left in a car – formed a disquieting cluster of cases highlighting the need for extreme caution in the heat of summer.
In the United States, 13 children have died so far this year after suffering heat strokes while left unattended in vehicles, according to statistics from the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University. The university reports an average of 37 heat-stroke-related deaths in children in vehicles annually.
Raynald Marchand, the general manager of the Canada Safety Council, a not-for-profit charitable organization, said Canada does not maintain statistics of how many children die from vehicular heat strokes because there are so few of them. Based on the American statistics and nearly 30 years of experience, he estimates that about four to six children in Canada die each year inside overheated cars.
"Here in Canada, it tends to be a handful each year," Mr. Marchand said. "It tends to be under-reported. … Sometimes the parents just take the child to the hospital and the child dies a few days later from complications due to heat stroke. That doesn't make the numbers in the same way because it happened in the hospital a few days later."
On Tuesday, the Edmonton Police Service issued an alert reminding people not to leave children unattended in their vehicles as the extreme heat could put children "at an unacceptable risk."
"It's already extremely hot today; the temperature in a car is even hotter than the temperatures outside," said Acting Sergeant Barry Fairhurst in the public-safety alert. "It doesn't matter if the windows are cracked open or if it's just for a few minutes."
But shortly afterward, on the south side of Edmonton, a passerby called police about three children left unattended in a car in a parking lot. Police charged a woman with three counts of willfully causing a child to be in need of intervention. Leila Daoud, a spokesperson for the Edmonton police, alleged that the woman's three sons, ages 6, 3 and 23 months, had been left in a car for about half an hour. The children were attended to by paramedics at the scene and did not need to be taken to hospital.
In the next incident, the child was not so lucky. Edmonton police said they were called to attend to a three-year-old girl – whose name has not been released – just before 7 p.m. Tuesday. Paramedics provided first aid and transported her to hospital where she was pronounced dead. The homicide section is investigating the case which police are treating as a suspicious death.
On Wednesday, a funeral was held for Maximus Huyskens, a two-year-old boy who also died after being exposed to high temperatures inside a parked vehicle in Milton, west of Toronto. Halton Regional Police said the boy was in the car for "an extended period of time." No charges had been laid as of Wednesday. The priest at the funeral said the boy's death was tragic and senseless.
Mr. Marchand said such incidents usually happen when people deviate from their routine. For example, when parents alternate who is supposed to drop off the child at daycare, it is easy just to drive to work and exit the vehicle forgetting that a child inside the car was supposed to be dropped off somewhere on the way to work, he said.
"It's not malicious. People get busy, and sometimes they are out of the routine," said Mr. Marchand, who recommended that parents should leave their purses or briefcases in the back of the car to remind them that there is a child there.
Mark Bonta, an internal medicine specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said that a child left inside a vehicle can begin to experience symptoms of heat stroke, such as confusion, fatigue and cessation of sweating, within 10 to 15 minutes.
In an e-mail, Dr. Bonta wrote: "If a kid is left in the car, the windows trap the heat and the sun is reflected off the skin and the windows, causing a greenhouse effect. This can lead to classic heat stroke in a matter of 10-15 minutes, as the ambient temperatures in the car skyrocket under this 'greenhouse' effect and the humidity that subsequently climbs in this enclosed space limits our bodies' abilities to lose heat through evaporative means (sweating)."
Mr. Marchand said charges are typically only laid if the child survives the experience.
"If the child dies, quite often [police] go, 'They've already had the optimum punishment. How can we punish them any more than this?' They've lost their child. … They've already got the hardest lesson they can have: The tragic death of their child."