By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It is something so quintessentially Canadian that it could come as a surprise to many that some municipalities have deemed it illegal.
For that reason, Michael Coteau, the province’s children and youth services minister, is calling on local councils to consider lifting their municipality’s ban on road hockey.
In an open letter to municipalities, Coteau writes that governments need to find better ways of keeping kids safe rather than simply denying their right to play, and sometimes that means simply stepping aside.
“I firmly believe that we should encourage our kids to play,” he writes.
“I also believe that 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.”
Currently, a number of municipalities across the provinces have bans on road hockey and other street games due to safety and liability concerns. However, most recently, the City of Toronto struck down its ban, allowing kids to play shinny in the streets.
It’s something that Coteau says impacted a lot of people.
“I got so much feedback from people right across Ontario,” he tells The Oshawa Express.
“I think there was something that struck a chord with people and that was the fact that it’s hard being a kid these days.”
Coteau hopes other municipalities will follow Toronto’s lead, praising the health and mental benefits of the game.
“We just need to get out of the way and let kids be kids,” he says.
“Make sure they’re safe and they’re not playing hockey on the 401, but if you live on a street and it’s a safe street and the speed limit is right and things are good, it should be considered.”
For those potential future NHLers honing their skills on Oshawa streets, you are in luck.
According to Jerry Conlin, the city’s director of municipal law enforcement and licensing services, no outright ban exists on Oshawa roads, only noting that the city’s nuisance bylaw stipulates the game cannot interfere with traffic or create an unsafe situation.
“So if you’re on an arterial road or a collector road where the traffic is heavy, it doesn’t make any sense to be out there,” he says.
“But on local roads and what not, it makes perfect sense the kids are going to be out there playing hockey.”
“So we don’t ban it,” Conlin adds. “We have criteria in place saying it can’t unreasonably impede traffic. If people are moving their nets so traffic can get through, then that works.”
As for any potential damage to property as a result of the game, Conlin says the city’s bylaw does not speak to that and any damages would become the responsibility of those people playing and the property owner to resolve.
And it would seem, at least according to the numbers, Oshawa residents are generally behind letting the national sport playing out on the streets.
“I can count on one hand, in fact, half of one hand, the number of complaints I get about this each winter,” Conlin says. “It’s very limited.”