Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Josh Matlow to fight for ball hockey rights

Kids play ball hockey near Yonge and Eglinton in this file photo. The city is under pressure to drop the city wide ban on street hockey.

by David Rider, Toronto Star Urban Affairs Bureau Chief

A Toronto councillor hopes to stickhandle through bureaucratic hand-wringing over legalizing ball hockey on city streets.

A staff report going to the public works committee Tuesday recommends keeping the status quo — a prohibition that allows police to warn players if neighbours complain, but gives them the discretion to make a $55 citation for breaking the bylaw a rare event.

“There is some potential for increased public risk and liability to the City of no longer prohibiting the playing or taking part in any game or sport on the roadway,” Ron Hamilton, a traffic operations manager, wrote in the report. “There is nothing inherently wrong with the way this issue is currently dealt with in Toronto at the present time.”

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), chair of the public works committee, said Hamilton is probably right.

“Kids have played street hockey for years; they move the net when they need to and don’t get in the way of cars and (the bylaw) works fine,” he said. “We should leave it alone.”

But rookie Councillor Josh Matlow is throwing down the gloves, saying: “I don’t like legislation that doesn’t reflect reality. The reality is we have kids and people of all ages playing street hockey all over this city,” and there are traffic rules police can use to stop dangerous playing.

Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), who protested the bylaw on his street with local kids when he was a school trustee, said that, should public works accept staff advice, he’ll try to find a compromise at council.

He plans to move a motion asking the city manager to explore allowing residents of side streets to ask for an exemption from the ban and from any liability implications that would have for the city.

“I think we need to decriminalize an age-old Canadian institution. I’ve been talking to staff for the past few days trying to find a solution,” he said.

Kingston council took a different tack in 2004, putting aside lawsuit concerns with a code of conduct allowing ball hockey on local streets between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m., if participants and parents assume all risks.

Matthew Blackett, a founder of Spacing magazine who has fought to end the ball hockey ban, expressed disappointment with Minnan-Wong’s position.

“Cops are shutting down kids’ games on weekend afternoons, so the status quo isn’t working,” he said. “We’re banning kids from playing ball sports, getting healthy.”

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