WATCH: An increasing fear of lawsuits has municipalities closing some favourite tobogganing hills across the GTA. Alan Carter reports.
TORONTO – There’s snow on the ground and that means one thing: Time to dig through your closet or garage for that Brett Hull GT Snowracer, flying saucer or or old-school wooden toboggan.
But not if you live in Toronto, where the city’s bylaw 608-22 prohibits tobogganing (or snowboarding, “skibobbing” or sledding) in 14 Toronto parks:
Parks Director Richard Ubbens said tobogganing is allowed at the city’s other 1,486 parks if you can find a suitable hill. But at those 14, he said, the city has decided it isn’t safe to sled.
“Health and safety is our first priority always, in anything,” he said in an interview Friday. “So where, over time, either patrons or staff have reported a safety risk, those are the areas that are signed.”
There’s a long list of what can be considered a risk including a previous incident or a potential of a risk; trees, fences, hedges, steel sewer grates that could interfere with a toboggan run; or even the convergence of two hills at the bottom where kids might run into each other, Ubbens said.
“We recognize that tobogganing is a lot of fun but there is an inherent risk in it, especially if you go out of control.”
According to the journal Pediatrics, toboggans are more likely than any other type of sled to be involved in injury. And the Center for Injury Research and Policy in the United States suggested almost 230,000 kids were injured sledding between 1997 and 2007.
But Toronto’s bylaw officers aren’t particularly vigilant about policing snowy parks: The city hasn’t issued a ticket for tobogganing since 2008.
Same goes for Hamilton, where tobogganing is banned city-wide and can set you back up to $5,000, which is a lot of babysitting money.
“I really want to stress it’s not so much the activity as the legal environment that we find ourselves in. Municipalities are…increasingly being seen by the courts as almost an insurer of the people rather than a governance body,” said John McLennan, Hamilton manager of risk management services said.
Hamilton has been sued before and had to pay out nearly $900,000 after a lawyer suffered a spinal injury in 2004 after hitting a snow-covered drainage ditch while tobogganing.
“Too many people are stuck indoors, playing endless video games, drinkin’ soda’s; staring at the television and letting their brains and bodies turn to MUSH!” the petition reads. “As proud Canadians we must embrace our right to toboggan down that freshly powdered hill here in Hamilton, Ontario!”
– With files from Patricia Kozicka