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One Last Picture and Much to Learn
By Dr Neelam Batra-Verma

High Number of Fatalities of New Migrants to Canada in Water Related Accidents is a Cause of Worry.

Anything…absolutely anything to get that extra, one like on social media, seems to be driving the youth today to go to any extent to take that one picture which could be fatal. Whether it’s on top of a tree, while diving, or flying, scaling skyscrapers, bridges, cliffs, edges of Grand Canyon or any other precariously placed location but, just one picture to remember for a lifetime. Which unfortunately, for 260 odd people till 2017, turned out to be their last. And most are water related accidents on the cliffs, near the beach or river bank.

Indo-Canadian student Gagandeep Singh has been added to the growing statistics of dangerous picture takers coterie on the weekend of July 26, 2020. Manpreet Singh studying at Kwantlen University in Surrey and belonging to Gurdaspur of Punjab, too reportedly drowned at Veddar River in Chilliwack in British Columbia.  The first seven months of this year has seen as many as five Indo Canadians, drown in the beautiful waters of Canada.

Three days after Gagandeep went under the waters of Lake Louise in Banff national Park, Alberta, his rescue mission has been turned into a search now. For days, divers and RCMP helicopters, tried to locate him in vain, but till going to press, there was no sign of his body.

Having stayed indoors for three months because of COVID lockdown, Gagandeep went for a hike with his friends to Banff Naitonal Park along with his friends, one of who had come down from Toronto as things were slowly opening up. An avid nature lover, Gagandeep loved to hike and spend time outdoors and the weekend of July 27th was supposed to end as a relaxing evening, after spending a full day of hiking near Lake Louise.

Says his friend Parmeet Singh, who had known Gagandeep since 2016 when he had moved to Calgary, “it is a traumatic experience not only for me but also Gagandeep’s two friends were there with him when he disappeared in the water. He had gone down near the rocks and asked his friends on the bridge to take a picture in the backdrop of the beautiful melting glaciers. But it seems the rock that he was standing on moved and his friends saw him go under water. They saw his hands coming out of the water and his head bobbing, screaming, and crying for help. His friends ran down the trail to help their friend, but only saw his turban floating away. They tried to call for help, but there was no network. Not even 911 were working. The two friends then ran towards the highway, which was about 2 km away, where they got a ride to the nearest lodge and police were called. RCMP helicopters were deployed right away, and they searched for three days, but there was no sign of Gagandeep. I have now called rescue mission off.”

Gagandeep was the only son of his parents who belong to district Muktasar of Punjab India. “Telling his parents about their son was not easy. They will soon be flying to Canada. Their visa formalities have already been worked out.” Gagandeep’s untimely loss will not only be felt by his parents, friends and family but also the community where he volunteered at the local Gurdwara, organized youth camps and during COVID 19, was working as an essential worker. He had recently finished a diploma as a Medical Office Assistant. He had been waiting for his Permanent Resident visa to come through so he could continue his education.

Sadly, reports of such drowning came soon after Lifesaving Society had finished celebrating their National Drowning Prevention week, ending on July 25th.  Unfortunately, there is no real data available on the number of South Asian deaths by drowning; yet new Canadians form a high percentage of this statistics.

Gagandeep Singh

Between 2011 and 2015, 59 per cent of drowning deaths occurred during recreational activities and it was observed that new Canadians are four times more likely than Canadians, not being able to swim. A study titled “The Influence of Ethnicity on Aquatic Participation and Drowning in Canada” done in 2010 during the National Drowning Prevention Week, examined the influence of ethnicity on attitudes and behaviours surrounding water safety.

Dale Miller, Executive Director of The Lifesaving Society – BC and Yukon Branch said in an interview, “Though this is an old study, but it confirms the fact that newcomers to Canada often have different knowledge or experiences around issues of water safety. Many people who come to Canada belong to countries, which are not focused on water safety or where the avenues of water sports are limited. This study was undertaken so we could better understand how we can improve the way we educate all Canadians about water safety. The results point to the need for water safety education targeted to reach new immigrants, especially those who have been living in Canada for less than five years.”

The report found that 31per cent of new Canadians are nervous around water and half of new Canadian parents fear their children may drown. Bhupinder Kaur, who moved to Canada in the late nineties when her children were 5 and 7 years old, had apprehensions as she observed the water sports in and around the country. Says she, “It was scary to see that many of my children’s friends were spending most of their summer vacations near the pools or the beaches. Coming from Chandigarh, in Punjab, swimming activities were limited to clubs only, which were not easily accessible for people like us. For the next five years, I religiously took my kids for swimming lessons in the community and made sure they finished all the levels. But I have observed that not many parents coming from outside Canada, make it a priority.”

This highlights the need for the Lifesaving Society to teach the importance of being able to swim and the benefits of formal swimming lessons to new Canadians. Says Miller, “New Canadians (19 per cent) are over four times more likely to be unable to swim than those born in Canada (4 per cent) and half (50 per cent) of new Canadians parents worry that their children might drown or become injured when swimming.”

When in the water, whether a lake or the sea, conditions can change really fast and even a seasoned swimmer’s training may prove futile. Says Miller, “Accidents happen. It is not only the new Canadians but also even locals who have grown up swimming in nearby lakes or the sea, may not be prepared for some eventualities. Temperatures might be colder than they expected even in warm weather or the swimmer might be caught off guard by hidden currents – there can be strong underwater currents, which can cause trouble for the most confident of swimmers.”

Canada has seen the number of students coming from India go up to as high as 219,855 in 2019. Most students arrive in Canada with high hopes to make it their new home, with no intention of returning home. They are here for a long haul and therefore they try to fit in as soon as they can and try to adapt to the fullest, which means learning to eat different foods, make new friends, adapt to the open culture and of course adapt to the new outdoor activities. Unfortunately, hiking difficult terrains may look like taking a walk in the park, but actually needs experience, a fit body and certain tools to keep you safe. Safety is one aspect of life, which is not stressed in schools in India and not considered a personal responsibility.

As the weather gets warmer, there are a lot of activities new Canadians can choose from to enjoy the outdoors. Swimming, hiking, cycling, skateboarding, camping etc are all activities, which can easily be enjoyed outdoors by all, yet should not be forgotten that they come with their own challenges. There are short-term courses available at various community levels, which should be taken up by those planning to venture out to untested waters. Personal safety is your responsibility and every activity comes with its own set of dangers and risks. Miller said it right, “It is important when outdoors, you should have the tools and knowledge not only for your own safety but also have the ability to help your friends in danger. And don’t consider yourself invincible,” advises Miller. Gagandeep, who was recently engaged to an Australian, was a beginner swimmer when he decided to go close to the dangerous currents that sucked him in, in no time.

It cannot be denied that parents sending their children from India need to warn them of the impending dangers of venturing into unknown dangerous territories or indulging in risk taking activities. 500 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan said it right, “The Sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore.” Lurking dangers should not deter anyone from taking to the outdoors after arming themselves with right knowledge, tools and surround yourself with experienced people, before venturing out alone and making personal safety a priority.

(Dr Neelam Batra-Verma, Author, 1971: A War Story)

(The views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion, beliefs and view point of the owners of

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