The province has no plan to boost funding for water-safety programs designed for newcomers to Canada, nor to hire more beach safety officers, Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said Wednesday.

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The province has no plan to boost funding for water-safety programs designed for newcomers to Canada, nor to hire more beach safety officers, Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said Wednesday.

The minister discussed the review of a provincial beach safety program that was conducted after three people drowned at Manitoba parks last summer.

It recommends expanding the life-jacket loan program, a watercraft response boat program at Birds Hill Provincial Park and the creation of a park patrol emergency checklist.

Jhonalyn Javier, 11, and David Medina, 12, drowned at Grand Beach Provincial Park on Aug. 1. Their bodies were found by rescuers within the designated swim area. The two were friends, whose families had recently immigrated to Canada from the Philippines.

Then on Aug. 20, 22-year-old Jean-Baptiste Ajua, who had just become a Canadian, drowned at Birds Hill Provincial Park. His family had come to Canada as government-assisted refugees.

Cox ordered the review after the drownings.

"Listening to the Manitoba Lifesaving Society… they indicate parental supervision is the best way to ensure children are safe on the beach... Guardians and parents should ensure — when kids are on the beach and at the lake — (that) they are always within arm’s reach," she told reporters at a news conference at Birds Hill Provincial Park’s east beach.

"The primary reason for having the beach safety officers is for educational purposes, to educate individuals on the best way to ensure their family is safe while at the beach and in the lake," she said.

"The English-as-a-second-language program offers beach information, lake safety, water safety within their program," Cox said, adding there will be updated brochures and modernized park signage to help newcomer Canadians.

Several recommendations were offered, including updates to the public education strategy, but the departmental review found that safety standards are generally being maintained. The review reads, "individuals are responsible for themselves, their families and affiliated groups while on all provincial park beaches."

The review makes several recommendations for Birds Hill, including the addition of a Zodiac for staff to use in emergency and security circumstances, new marker buoys to make clear which swim area is in the boat’s patrol zone, and restrictions on access to the south shore.

That area "looks more attractive since the lake’s redevelopment and visitor access has significantly increased," the report says, but notes safety operators are "equipped to manage swim activity on the north shore only."

Cox said it will cost $40,000 to implement changes at Birds Hill, including the life-jacket loan kiosk.

"We want to make sure individuals are safe and that we respond in the fastest way possible," Cox said. "(The boat) will function on the lake to ensure swimmers don’t go into restricted areas and provide faster (emergency) responses."

The kiosk, which was stocked with 75 life-jackets (a number expected to double later this summer) was open for business Wednesday under cloudy skies on a cool day at Birds Hill. The honour-system concept is based on a similar program at St. Malo Provincial Park, Cox said.

The perceived success of the loan program at Birds Hill will dictate how the province proceeds, she said. "We want review that, see how it is doing, then we’ll examine whether or not we expand the program... If we do see it is utilized and beneficial, we could look at expanding it to other beaches."

Christopher Love, a water smart public education co-ordinator with the Lifesaving Society of Manitoba said he approves of the emphasis on public education.

"We do consider that to be a major component in behaviour change and helping keep people safe around water," he said.

The money being spent on the new life-jacket loan kiosk, in-water markers and more "do appear that they would enhance safety in general," Love said, although without seeing the specifics of the beach’s operating plan "it would be very hard to say exactly how it would integrate."

The review also recommended a formal protocol be established to help differentiate between mock rescues and emergencies.

There was a false alarm between the time when the children drowned on Aug. 1 and when Ajua died on Aug. 20 — to guard against possible miscommunication.

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca

scott.emmerson@freepress.mb.ca