Mayor and councillor look to stickhandle bylaw that prohibits street hockey in Hamilton
City council tries to find middle ground in allowing impromptu games and traffic sharing the streets
Hamilton is primed to revisit another joy-killing bylaw in an effort to legalize street hockey.
The City of Toronto amended a bylaw last week to allow road hockey on streets with low speed limits and during daylight hours.
That prompted Coun. Sam Merulla to circulate a motion designed to stickhandle around Hamilton’s own infamous ban — the same rule he tried unsuccessfully to kill in 2002.
“It’s happening anyway. We should recognize that and change the rules to acknowledge safe and reasonable practice of a cherished childhood activity,” the Ward 4 councillor said of traditional ball hockey games on residential streets.
“No one is going to sanction kids playing sports on a major thoroughfare. But there is a great deal of room for compromise and really, common sense.”
Fourteen years ago, a bylaw charge over playing sports in the street morphed into a court battle that earned the city unwanted national media attention.
Merulla pitched ending the ban then — but city lawyers argued the rule was needed to protect against lawsuits.
Merulla’s renewed effort comes after last year’s decision to ease Hamilton’s sledding ban — which long vied with the streets bylaw as the most-hated rule outlawing winter fun.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger is game for the latest debate.
“I have been playing street hockey and have the basketball net on the street every year. I didn’t realize it wasn’t legal,” he wrote in response to Merulla’s proposal, later adding “Let’s make it right. Let’s put the fun back into our national sport!”
City solicitor Janice AtwoodPetkovski was not available to comment Tuesday. But in 2002, city legal staff emphasized bylaw officers typically don’t enforce the road hockey ban unless there is a specific complaint.
“Short of allowing streets to be completely closed to vehicular traffic and parking, there is no practical means of significantly reducing or eliminating the risks of personal injury when sports and vehicles are sharing the street,” argued city lawyer Ron Sabo in 2002.
Interestingly, municipal lawyers in more than one city have cited the provincial Highway Traffic Act as an impediment to legalizing street hockey.
That hasn’t stopped provincial Minister of Children Youth Services Michael Coteau from publicly backing municipal bylaw changes, though. “We need to #letthekidsplay” reads the tweet pinned to the top of the minister’s Twitter feed.
Merulla said he spoke to Coteau by phone and suggested he talk to cabinet colleague Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca about changes to the language in the Highway Traffic Act. The Spectator was unable to reach Coteau Tuesday afternoon.
Hamilton’s streets bylaw periodically stirs public outrage — and not just about hockey. In 2014, a Mountain resident was told to remove a suburban street-side basketball net or face a provincial offences fine of up to $5,000.