Road Hockey: Let the Kids Play

Ontario’s minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Couteau was in the news recently for his plea to Toronto city council to lift a ban on road hockey in the city. The by-law in questions states that:

“no person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a roadway and, where there are sidewalks, no person upon roller-skates, in-line skates or a skateboard, or riding in or by means of any coaster, scooter, toy vehicle, toboggan sleigh or similar device, shall go upon a roadway except for the purpose of crossing the road, and, when so crossing, such a person shall have the rights and be subject to the obligations of a pedestrian.”

On July 15th, Toronto City Council voted to scrap the ban on street hockey. It was the right choice – this ban was an example of a law that goes too far. The purpose of the by-law was to keep kids safe and to reduce the risk of liability against a municipality if an injury occurs. These are admirable goals, but an absolute ban is not necessary. Obviously a complete ban would reduce the risk of children being hurt, but at what cost?

There are inherent risks in any activity. We don’t ban kids from playing sports, playing in parks or other activities that could cause harm. So if the concern is about kids being hurt in the act of playing road hockey that should be up to the kids and their parents to monitor – not the state.

On the issue of liability, there are already laws in place to protect a municipality. In a possible legal action against the municipality, a plaintiff would need to prove that the municipality failed to take reasonable care to keep the plaintiff safe. Unless a municipality had prior knowledge that children were playing on a street that was dangerous due to traffic or dangerous conditions, it is extremely unlikely that a municipality would be held liable for any injury to the child.

There is a better way.

“The prohibition is nothing short of stupid […] Street hockey gets kids outside and promotes a sense of community and fitness.”

– Darryl Singer, Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer

Toronto is not the only municipality that has banned street games including road hockey. Similar by-laws are in place in Montreal, Calgary and Halifax.

Kingston, Ontario allows road hockey on residential streets where the posted speed limits is 50 km/hr or less and has other guidelines set out in its Street Hockey Policy and Code of Conduct that states:

Street hockey may be played on a Local Street during daylight hours when there is good visibility. Street hockey may never be played before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Street hockey participants must:

Keep an ongoing watch for motor vehicle and bicycle traffic and must clear the street immediately of participants and equipment so that vehicles may pass safely

Remove all equipment from the street, sidewalk and boulevard as soon as the street hockey game is over and between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Respect the rights of neighbours to the reasonable enjoyment of their property free from damage, inappropriate noise, or disrespectful conduct toward them or their property

The policy states that if a person breaches the Code of Conduct the person will lose the privilege of playing street hockey for 90 days.

In my view, this is a good compromise to promote safety and allow kids to continue to be active and play outside with friends. The City of Toronto and other municipalities should look to this model to once again allow road hockey and other outdoor activity. Let the kids play.

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