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EDITORIAL: Parade precautions

In the wake of a tragedy that claimed the life of a four-year-old girl at Yarmouth's annual Christmas parade of lights, a candlelight vigil was held in Frost Park on Nov. 26. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
In the wake of a tragedy that claimed the life of a four-year-old girl at Yarmouth’s annual Christmas parade of lights, a candlelight vigil was held in Frost Park on Nov. 26. — SaltWire Network file photo

The heart-wrenching tragedy in Yarmouth, N.S. last Saturday left people shaking their heads in disbelief. How could such a happy event like a Christmas parade result in such a horrible accident?

As it turns out, very easily.

The death of a four-year-old girl left her family and friends stricken and the town shaken. The entire Atlantic region and beyond grieves with the family of McCali Cormier. She fell under a float and was fatally injured in full view of scores of horrified onlookers.

The accident leaves municipalities, police departments, parade organizers and volunteers asking if such a similar tragedy could happen in their community. The answer is yes.

The potential for an accident lurks everywhere. Many Christmas parades don’t begin until dusk or dark, to add extra sparkle for the lights and decorations on floats. But it makes the events more dangerous. It’s harder for drivers to see; children get caught up in the excitement and want to get closer for a better view, and people are distracted. If there is ice or snow on streets or sidewalks, it makes things even more dangerous.

At the same time as tragedy struck in Yarmouth, it was narrowly averted in Charlottetown, where city police delayed the start of that Christmas parade by more than 35 minutes. As children and parents shivered, and as more than 100 floats, bands and other entries waited, police were scrambling to secure the parade route. Impatient drivers ignored barricades and drove down the parade’s main avenue, putting people at risk.

The accident leaves municipalities, police departments, parade organizers and volunteers asking if such a similar tragedy could happen in their community. The answer is yes.

A story this week in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald suggests that parades are largely unregulated and, in many cases, are accidents waiting to happen. There are no standard regulations for maintaining parade safety in Nova Scotia, nor across most jurisdictions in North America, says Virginia resident Ron Melanson. He founded paradesafety.org to get regulations in place for parades, hayrides and sleigh rides after he saw a woman killed when a trailer broke free.

RCMP say that, on average, 22 people across North America are killed annually at parades or hayrides. Despite that alarming statistic, there is a reluctance to take action to ensure the safety of spectators and participants in parades. Provincial governments and municipalities have to co-operate and insist on basic, standardized, safety regulations. No one wants to curb the happy trappings of the holiday season, but it’s better to err on the side of caution than see another tragedy occur.

On Thursday, the Nova Scotia government announced an immediate review of parade permits and how to improve safety conditions. The province said it’s not enough to place responsibility on parade organizers; both government and municipalities need to be more diligent. Other Atlantic provinces should follow Nova Scotia’s example.

The death of McCali Cormier demands that we come up with common sense regulations and precautions at parades in Atlantic Canada to ensure that other families are spared tragedy.

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