The City of Toronto is having difficulty enforcing a six-year-old helmet policy, which has come under criticism in the city’s south end. â€œWe have had difficulties with Jutta Mason and the group that she represents,â€ said City of Toronto supervisor of active living Kevin Mercer. â€œThey don’t like helmets and I’m not really sure why.â€ Mason, an ardent public space activist, is a founding member of the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park. Though a three-phase helmet policy began in 2002, the issue came to the forefront when a ten-year-old child was killed while playing shinny hockey without a helmet in 2006 in Guelph. This season, City officials have made a heavy push for compliance at all outdoor rinks.
According to the City’s â€œHelmet Policy For Ice Activitiesâ€ which was approved August 16, 2002 and revised September 17, 2004, â€œAll participants (preschool, children, youth, and adults) who participate in and play supervised shinny hockey, hockey, or power skate activities are required to wear Canadian Standards Association approved hockey helmets.â€ Also noted in the policy is that staffers â€œare required to enforce this Policy and they are to ask participants to leave the ice if they do not have the required CSA approved hockey helmet.â€
It is uncommon to see players without helmets on most supervised rinks with fencing, boards, and nets, but on unsupervised outdoor rinks toques replace buckets. â€œWherever there’s no enforcement, there’s no helmets,â€ Mason claims. â€œAs soon as people can, they tend to take them off.â€
Mercer admits that compliance with the helmet policy isn’t as widespread as he had hoped. â€œThere seems to be a couple of pockets where there is no compliance with the helmet policy and Dufferin Grove is one of them,â€ said Mercer. â€œWhen staff are on duty they will try to enforce [the policy] but they are instructed not to get into confrontations with people.â€ At Dufferin Grove there are staff supervisors but they aren’t enforcing the policy. â€œ[Jutta Mason has] her own thoughts on it and unfortunately she’s having influence over other people,â€ said Mercer. But what would happen if a shinny player at Dufferin Grove had a head injury? â€œWell I hope they’d sue the shit out of Jutta Mason,â€ said Mercer laughing. â€œIf you hurt yourself and you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re on your own in terms of insurance.â€
Mason’s contention with the policy is rooted in a fundamental belief that shinny hockey is a sport that is played with minimal equipment. â€œShinny is not a sport that’s played with a helmet,â€ said Mason. â€œWe don’t enforce [the helmet policy] at Dufferin and it’s not enforced at most of the rinks around here,â€ she said. Mason also disagrees with the legislative procedure of the policy and claims that recent enforcement of the rule has lead to a significant decrease in attendance at city rinks. â€œIt’s amazing how in some places the shinny hockey scene has been semi-killed,â€ Mason said. â€œThe bike helmet discussion was going on for nine months and eventually the adult portion of the policy was removed. It was regarded as a pretty serious matter whereas with the helmet policy for outdoor rinks, these folks just had a meeting one day and just came out with that.â€
Supporters of helmet-less hockey argue that the city has yet to provide data on head injuries to shinny players. â€œThey have no claims to back them up and they have no injury data,â€ Mason said. â€œWe asked for it and they said the decision wasn’t based on data, it was based on the suspicion that there is data but they haven’t got any.â€ Mercer balks at Mason’s argument. â€œYou wear a seat belt in the car don’t you? Would you let your kids ride without a seat belt? Why would you let them run loose on a hockey rink?â€ he said. â€œThat’s what they’ll tell ya,â€ responded Mason. â€œBut it isn’t the same. The interesting thing about the seat belt and the bike helmet policies is that there are provisions in the law that if you’re going to change things then you must give people an opportunity to discuss it and this never was,â€ said Mason. â€œThe WHO said years ago that most people died falling down the stairs, but so far we haven’t had legislation that says we have to wear a helmet while walking up or down stairs,â€ said Mason.
One organization that does have data is the Greater Toronto Hockey League. As of this past January every team official is required to wear a C.S.A. helmet during all on-ice activities. The league cited statistics gathered by USA Hockey that identified that since 1998 seven coaches in both Canada and the United States have died from head injuries, as a result of falling on the ice during practices. Additionally, in the United States alone, there were 47 documented head injury claims by coaches in one 12-month period.
Over at Dieppe rink in East York, nine-year-olds Andrew Alvarado and Chris Mcdonald haven’t really considered playing shinny without a helmet. â€œI guess I’m used to it,â€ said Alvarado who plays for the North York Knights minor atom â€˜A’ team in the G.T.H.L. â€œThey make us wear them,â€ said teammate Mcdonald. â€œI don’t really like it, but I guess it’s safer.â€
If the City has its way, a helmet will join a stick, a puck and a pair of skates as basic ingredients for outdoor hockey in Toronto, but when heart battles head it’s anybody’s game.
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Click here to read Kevin Kennedy’s article, A pair of skates, a stick and a dream.
Photo by tuchodi