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

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DON­GEN

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.

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