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Lives matter

The cliffs that frame Western Brook Pond on Newfoundland’s west coast offer one of the most spectacular vistas in Gros Morne National Park.

As you drive north from the famous land-locked fjord, the cliffs recede further inland, but are still very much a part of the landscape by the time you reach the community of Parson’s Pond.

The town boasts some of the most beautiful, rugged scenery in the province.

But the people of Parson’s Pond aren’t feeling especially proud today. Today, they are still reeling from the drowning death of a local moose hunter.

“Everybody is hurt to the core right now,” town Coun. Paul Parsons said last week.

The man’s body was recovered from nearby Goosney’s Pond. He drowned after the boat he and his fellow hunters were in capsized.

Three others were wearing life jackets. They managed to survive for four hours before they were rescued. The man who drowned, for whatever reason, was not wearing a life jacket.

The Parson’s Pond tragedy is not unique, nor is the lack of life jackets. Every year, cabin owners, hunters and others take to the waters of this province without benefit of these life-saving devices.

You see it happen all the time. You may even be one of them. You’re just cruising along the shore to shoot a couple of birds, or skimming across the pond to visit so-and-so. You may not bother with a life jacket at all, or you may just leave it sitting in the hull of the boat.

We are all victims of this reckless behaviour, because so many of us are guilty of it. Only fate decides which ones pay the ultimate price. Even though nine out of 10 drowning victims were not wearing life jackets, the message doesn’t seem to sink in. Old habits die hard.

Every recreational vessel in this country is required by law to have the same number of approved life jackets on board as passengers. But the law does not require passengers to actually wear them.

Predictably, this means that the number of drowning deaths in Canada that occur when a jacket was available but not worn has been going up.

As the Canadian Red Cross puts it, a seatbelt will not restrain you in a crash if you’re not wearing it.

The circumstances surrounding the Parsons Pond death have not been revealed. And there’s no telling whether a life jacket would have necessarily saved the man.

But that’s not really the point.

The point is that countless families and communities around the province have experienced the same gut-wrenching grief that those in Parsons Pond are feeling right now.

Anything that might spare others from the pain - including tougher laws and enforcement - can only be a good thing.

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