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Ontario minister urges end to Toronto’s road hockey ban

Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau, who has no jurisdiction in municipal politics, is urging Toronto city council to lift the ban this week. “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,” he said.
July 11, 2016
By Robert Benzie

Let the kids play.

That’s the message from Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau, who is urging city council to lift a ban on road hockey in Toronto.

“We should encourage our kids to play (but) ... sometimes, as government leaders, we focus too much on the details of programs, policies, budgets and statistics, when the best thing we can do is just get out of the way,” Coteau wrote in an open letter to be delivered to city hall Monday.

“As many already know, Toronto city council will receive a report at their meeting this week that recommends Toronto continue to prohibit kids from playing sports, such as ball hockey and basketball, on municipal streets.”

Coteau, a father of two young daughters and the MPP for Don Valley East, emphasized there many positives to ending the prohibition on road hockey.

“While the health benefits of physical activity are well known and obvious, some of the other benefits of play are maybe less so,” he wrote, pointing to “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.”

There is huge social upside for families if children are permitted to set up their hockey nets in residential areas.

“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,” Coteau said.

The minister’s unusual intervention in municipal politics - where he has no jurisdiction - comes on the eve of city council receiving a report Tuesday from bureaucrats in the transportation services’ department on road hockey and ball playing.

“Amending the Municipal Code to remove the prohibition of portable basketball or hockey nets on the public right of way is not supported by transportation services,” according to the department’s report.

“It encourages children and adults to play on the roadway as it creates obstructions and encroachments which could create a safety hazard for motorists and interfere with required maintenance activities,” the report said.

“Playing on the roadway is prohibited for safety and liability reasons.”

While the municipal bylaw is rarely enforced, it is currently illegal to play road hockey in Toronto and stick-wielding scofflaws face $55 fines if caught.

Coteau said councillors should ignore the bureaucrats, lawyers, and killjoys and send a signal to the rest of the province.

“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,” he wrote.

“A vote to overturn the prohibition and let kids play will challenge other municipalities to abolish similar road hockey bans in their own communities.”

Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) is pushing city officials to allow street hockey and basketball on local roads that have a speed limit of 40 km/h or less.

Carmichael Greb said games should be allowed in daylight hours and only between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

In a June 17 submission to the city’s public works and infrastructure committee, the rookie councillor said Toronto should follow the lead of Kingston, where street games have long been permitted in daylight hours on roads with a speed limit of up to 50 km/h.

Tackling the thorny issue of legal liability, which appears to be the city of Toronto’s lawyers’ main objection to road hockey, could be easily addressed, Carmichael Greb said.

“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 said in her submission.

In 2012, Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) tried unsuccessfully to get Toronto’s ban lifted.

His opponents on council at the time argued that because the bylaw was hardly ever enforced it did not need to be amended.