Breaking Bylaws: Great Canadian pastime is still illegal

Breaking Bylaws: Great Canadian pastime is still illegal
By Melissa Wilson
OpenBlog Toronto
May 8, 2012

Hockey is such a staple of Canadian culture that it’s featured on our five-dollar bill, and babies are assigned team allegiances in the form of tiny onesies before they even open their eyes. But as picturesque as it is to imagine kids playing a pick-up game on a frozen pond in the winter, or on a leafy cul-de-sac in the summer, the latter activity is actually illegal, and has been for almost four decades.

Despite the fact that many of us can’t walk around a residential neighbourhood in the summer without coming across some kids playing hockey, those children are actually tiny criminals, according to the City of Toronto’s Municipal Code.

According to Chapter 400* of the Municipal Code:

“No person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a roadway.”

It’s straightforward and to the point. Sorry kids. If you’re caught playing street hockey, you could be handed a $55 fine on the spot. But, lucky for you, no one has ever actually been issued the fine —though warnings are doled out frequently, at the request of persnickety neighbours — and this issue appears so low down on everybody’s list of priorities that representatives from the City of Toronto and Toronto Police Services weren’t even clear on whose job it was to actually enforce it. (Turns out, both the City and TPS have the authority to issue tickets.)

So why is such an ineffectual bylaw still on the books anyway? There’s a growing group of prominent Torontonians that are petitioning it be repealed.

Ward 34 councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said last year in an interview with the Toronto Star, “Kids have played street hockey for years; they move the net when they need to and don’t get in the way of cars…We should leave it alone.”

Josh Matlow, councillor for Ward 22, echoed Minnan-Wong: “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.”

Spacing publisher Matthew Blackett has also campaigned to remove the bylaw, writing: “I was a 10-year-old revolutionary. I didn’t lead a brigade out of the jungle with lofty dreams of overthrowing a government, like the 12-year-old twins who, a few years back, led God’s Army through the jungles of Thailand and Myanmar. No, I simply put down a less-than-sturdy set of metal pipes and poorly tied mesh netting onto the street, like thousands of boys and girls in Toronto do every day, and reclaimed the street in the name of Hockey.”

Last April a report went to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, suggesting the possibility of amending the bylaw to no longer prohibit the playing of sports on the city’s roadways, but generally recommending the status quo. It reads:

“The transient and sporadic nature of the activity makes enforcement difficult and given the responsibilities of a police officer, this matter is not given a high priority…However, the by-law prohibition does allow for enforcement to occur, if necessary…[and] provides the City with a measure of protection from potential liability and risk…”

It seems unlikely that the bylaw will ever be officially removed, since it provides too much protection to the City, and little inconvenience to the players. The main issue, according to Jacqueline White, acting director of transportation services at the City of Toronto, is that the nature of the bylaw means it has to be all or nothing.

“It has to apply to all roadways,” she says. “It’s a recognition that the public roadway is intended for vehicles, and not intended for playing sports. But it’s a general bylaw that applies to all streets.”

So, bylaw or no bylaw, you can probably just go ahead and reenact that scene on the Tim Horton’s holiday cup, but try not to bother your neighbours, and maybe don’t set up camp in the middle of Yonge and Dundas.

* As Chapter 400 is currently under review, it is not available for download online, but it is still in effect.

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