Ontario cabinet minister calls on council to lift road hockey ban
Published Monday, July 11, 2016 9:07AM EDT Last Updated Monday, July 11, 2016 8:33PM EDT
Ontario’s minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau is calling on Toronto city council to lift a ban on road hockey in the city.
In an open letter sent to councillors Monday, Coteau said sometimes governments should “get out of the way” and let children play.
“Sometimes as government leaders we focus too much on the details of programs, policies, budgets and statistics,” he wrote.
"Road hockey bans are commonplace in municipalities across Ontario and I am hoping your council will show leadership by making it clear that children can and should play safely on neighbourhood streets."
The letter comes on the heels of a debate at city council this week about the feasibility of lifting the ban on road hockey and basketball nets on residential streets.
"The obvious issue at hand is the safety of our children, and I agree that our kids need to be safe, but there has to be a better way than denying them of their right to play. That’s why I am urging all City Councillors to think carefully about this debate," Coteau continued.
Coteau, who is the MPP for Don Valley East and has no jurisdiction over city politics, emphasized the perks of permitting street hockey and basketball.
"While the health benefits of physical activity are well known and obvious, some of the other benefits of play are maybe less so; things such as communication and social skills, an understanding of social rules, relationship building, learning how to compromise with others, patience and perseverance, teamwork and a sense of belonging," he wrote.
"Informal play can also strengthen community bonds, bring parents together, put more 'eyes on the street' and can reduce speeding and reckless driving on neighbourhood roads."
The city’s transportation services department does not support lifting the ban.
“Recognizing that street hockey, basketball, and other sports activities do occur on public roadways, there are legitimate safety and liability concerns with permitting this activity,” according to a May 26 report from the general manager of transportation services.
The staff report also notes that these activities often do occur "without incident" and adds that enforcement is “complaint driven” and rarely results in fines.
“Retaining the existing regulations allows Transportation Services and Toronto Police Services to undertake enforcement when these activities are causing a hazard, or as a result of a complaint. Enforcement of these regulations should remain complaint driven and discretionary,” the report concludes.
Coteau has the support of at least one Toronto city councillor, who recently sent a letter to the public works and infrastructure committee urging them to support lifting the ban.
“Ward 16 is green space deficient, there are very few places for local children to play outdoors,” Coun. Christin Carmichael Greb wrote in a June 17 letter to the committee.
“We want to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for our children but our bylaws do not reflect this consideration. Instead, they restrict our ability to allow children to play safely in front of their homes on the public right of way.”
She added that other municipalities, including Kingston, have found a way to permit activities like road hockey while taking safety and liability into consideration.
Carmichael Greb made a number of recommendations on new regulations, including a suggestion that people assume liability if they decide to play on the road.
“People who choose to play street hockey or basketball on the roadway or allow a child in their care to play agree that they are assuming any and all risks associated with the decision to engage in this conduct and are waiving any and all claims against the city,” she wrote.
She added that these activities only be allowed on residential streets with low speed limits and take place between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.