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Helmet policy causes conflict at city rinks

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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. “We have had difficulties with Jutta Mason and the group that she represents,” said City of Toronto supervisor of active living Kevin Mercer. “They don’t like helmets and I’m not really sure why.” 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 “Helmet Policy For Ice Activities” which was approved August 16, 2002 and revised September 17, 2004, “All 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.” Also noted in the policy is that staffers “are 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.”

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. “Wherever there’s no enforcement, there’s no helmets,” Mason claims. “As soon as people can, they tend to take them off.”

Mercer admits that compliance with the helmet policy isn’t as widespread as he had hoped. “There seems to be a couple of pockets where there is no compliance with the helmet policy and Dufferin Grove is one of them,” said Mercer. “When staff are on duty they will try to enforce [the policy] but they are instructed not to get into confrontations with people.” At Dufferin Grove there are staff supervisors but they aren’t enforcing the policy. “[Jutta Mason has] her own thoughts on it and unfortunately she’s having influence over other people,” said Mercer. But what would happen if a shinny player at Dufferin Grove had a head injury? “Well I hope they’d sue the shit out of Jutta Mason,” said Mercer laughing. “If you hurt yourself and you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re on your own in terms of insurance.”

Mason’s contention with the policy is rooted in a fundamental belief that shinny hockey is a sport that is played with minimal equipment. “Shinny is not a sport that’s played with a helmet,” said Mason. “We don’t enforce [the helmet policy] at Dufferin and it’s not enforced at most of the rinks around here,” 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. “It’s amazing how in some places the shinny hockey scene has been semi-killed,” Mason said. “The 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.”

Supporters of helmet-less hockey argue that the city has yet to provide data on head injuries to shinny players. “They have no claims to back them up and they have no injury data,” Mason said. “We 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.” Mercer balks at Mason’s argument. “You 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?” he said. “That’s what they’ll tell ya,” responded Mason. “But 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,” said Mason. “The 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,” 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. “I guess I’m used to it,” said Alvarado who plays for the North York Knights minor atom ‘A’ team in the G.T.H.L. “They make us wear them,” said teammate Mcdonald. “I don’t really like it, but I guess it’s safer.”

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



  1. “Well I hope they’d sue the shit out of Jutta Mason,”
    Well someone needs to. She’s been a total nutbar for years now, on various and sundry issues.

    Oh Jutta. You’re for protecting hockey players against the sight of an errant nipple, but you’re against protecting them from injury. Ok, good. Just making sure.

  2. Getting children to wear hockey helmets is an issue? Really? And it warrants an entire article to discuss the issue? What year is this?

    The NHL’s helmet policy is nearly 30 years old (it was adopted in the 79/80 season), and I was living under the assumption that in those 28 years, we’d all basically agreed that ice was hard, heads were less so and contact between the 2 could prove dangerous. Somehow young children are exempt from physics because they’re only playing for fun?

    Why do cranks like this Jutta Mason have to take up any of our time? Does she have a kid? I wonder who she’d try to sue if her kid split open his head on a city rink?

  3. It’s disturbing that the requirement for helmets is reducing interest in shinny hockey. Helmets are a good idea, but I’ve played shinny and I suspect that it’s nonetheless quite safe without them. However, by pushing kids off the rinks when they have no helmets, the city may be driving them to other, more dangerous activities where there is no enforcement. Where’s the data suggesting that, on balance, helmets protect kids?

  4. That’s crap…helmets aren’t going to be the demise of shinny hockey. Kids dying from cracked skulls and the resultant lawsuits have a pretty good chance, though. When the insurance to keep the rinks open gets too high for the city to afford the rinks, that will kill shinny.

  5. Josh, all I’m saying is, where’s the data? We know that shinny participation is going down. How many kids have been killed playing shinny in the last ten years — one, maybe? What would they be doing if they weren’t playing shinny? Is the requirement for helmets actually protecting kids, or shifting the problem somewhere else?

    The only thing a lawsuit or insurance premium does is to encourage the city to dump its liabilities elsewhere, which is what is going on in this case.

  6. There are lots of these old-time activists around the city — they did good, even great things. Duff Park is wonderful. But sometimes they get kind of cranky and set in their ways, and go way off the mark.

    Helmets, no brainer, no guff. Stick to the bread oven, Jutta.

    Maybe the demise of shinny is due to the changing demographics and tastes of Canadian kids. What’s the shinny version of Soccer? Bet that’s way up. Times changes, let’s roll.

  7. Just an observation that on the “world’s largest outdoor skating rink” in ottawa, most people skate without helmets. For some reason, helmets are required on tiny little rinks, but if you’re skating on a lake or a canal, even if it’s government-maintained, you’re OK. Just saying there are inconsistencies here.

  8. Charles: You don’t need to wear a helmet at Toronto rinks for recreational skating. Only for hockey, shinney, etc.

    The Rideau Canal doesn’t require helmets, but it’s even more restrictive because you can’t play hockey/shinney at all (except for special occasions…)

  9. I’m a big fan of what Friends of Dufferin Grove have done, but to fight against helmets to be worn during shinny is really dumb.

    Comparing cycling helmets and hockey helmets is poor argument. Not matter how good of a skater you are, you’re very likely to fall down at some occasion while playing, which can’t be said about cycling. I don’t think I’ve fallen off my bike in 2 or 3 years but ride 8 months of the year on a daily basis. Becuz hockey is a contact sport — and even shinny is contact — it can result in people colliding and falling, even by the best of players.

    Specifically at Andrew: Data came out the other day showing neck guards and visors have seriously decreased injuries in the OHL, something like 40%. While not directly related to helmets, its the type of data that shows when you protect younger players, injuries will decrease. I don’t know how you can demand data to show helmetless kids are more at risk than kids waering helmets — its common sense. Besides, most anyone who owns a pair of skates will most likely have a helmet too. Not all will own them, I realize, but most will.

    If the city is concerned about decreased numbers then have the Parks Dept buy a whack of helmets, or sell its soul to CCM or Mission and have them donate hundreds to be ‘rented’ at outdoor rinks.

  10. I’m not liking helmet enforecement of any type for adults.

    It appears from the article that the city’s helmet policy applies to adults as well (as opposed to cycling helmet laws, which mandate domes for children only).

  11. I think I’m for not forcing adults to not wear helmets, but I’m for not wearing a helmet automatically having that adult opt out of state funded health care in the event of an injury to said head.

  12. Matt, thanks for the response. Of course helmets reduce injuries. I’m making the unintended-consequences argument: if you make kids wear helmets, those who choose not to will find something else to do with their time. Will that thing be more or less dangerous than playing shinny without a helmet? Is the city concerned with the kids or just the liability?

    I also dispute the notion that helmetless shinny is inherently dangerous, or moreso than any other sport. This isn’t the OHL; players aren’t out there hitting. Further, a helmet would not have prevented the (few, minor) injuries I’ve seen playing shinny.

  13. I recognize its not as tough as the OHL, but shinny played by kids can result is just as severe injuries. Hitting and “contact” are two different things. Incidental contact happens often in non-hitting games, and often results in worse incidents than if a hit was delivered. Often in shinny, people dodge to get out of the way and end up ass-over-kettle. Sometimes its better to get hit. And when it comes to younger players — kids aged 8 to 15 — you know full well that without s referee out there kids will put themselves and others at risk to be like their hockey stars. I’m less concerned with adults wearing helmets, but as I’ve gotten older I’m more concerned with my safety than with my vanity. Helmets might be kinda dorky looking, but I like my skull intact.

    I should add the disclaimer that I love hockey to death, played for 30 years, coached for 5 years during high school, and worked for 7 years at The Hockey News. This type of discussion is something we often debated during editorial meetings and casual office banter. The last thing I want to do is turn kids off from hockey or shinny, but I don’t think forcing kids to wear a helmet is the cause for its demise. Its an easy excuse for folks like Jutta. I think it has more to do with the expense of hockey and the changing demographics, as mentioned above.

  14. Judging by his recent comments I suspect that Rob Ford did not wear a helmet when playing shinny as a kid.

  15. I suspect this kerfuffle might partially result from seriously overzealous liability concerns stifling some park initiatives in the past, and a resulting oversensitivity to such things.

    It may also be that some Parks staff feel that getting in to conflicts with locals – especially the youth – over helmets just isn’t in their job description. I doubt this is just about shinny participation; it’s about building and maintaining relationships between staff and younger park users, which can be a fine balance. Sure, this probably isn’t the best example, and I think both sides are focusing a little too closely on one tiny aspect, to mark their territory.

    No, it’s probably not something worth going to war over, and is a bit silly, but then so is externally mandating people’s responsibility to themselves. How hard is it to accept, for both individuals and the City, that if someone doesn’t wear a helmet, and they get hurt, it’s their own fault?

    ‘But what would happen if a shinny player at Dufferin Grove had a head injury? “Well I hope they’d sue the shit out of Jutta Mason,” said Mercer laughing.’

    I don’t see how that statement is any less irresponsible or outrageous – especially coming from a city department supervisor – than Mason’s position. Why should they sue anyone? They chose not to wear a helmet, and they got hurt. Welcome to life. Opting for litigation after the fact as a replacement for responsibility and thoughtfulness beforehand is wearing this society down, and it saddens me to see someone encourage it in such an off-handed nature, jokingly or not.

  16. Two things:
    First: Shinny is not hockey, in the same way that soccer is not football. Soccer and football are similar — running up and down a field with a ball. They’re different — in soccer you don’t clobber each other and you don’t wear a helmet, but in football, you do both. And you can get hurt in both sports but in soccer you still don’t wear a helmet.

    Ditto for shinny and NHL-style hockey — similar, in that you wear skates and you try to get a puck into a net with a hockey stick. Different — in shinny there’s no raising of the puck, no checking. In hockey there’s both. Most shinny players (not only Don Cherry) say that the absence of helmets etc. keeps the game safer. That includes NHL players — remember the famous shinny game in Edmonton where they all wore toques?

    Second thing: there’s lots of theory about risk, but actual data can be a nice addition. According to our freedom of information request, the City of Toronto does not have on record ANY claim against it for a head injury at their 49 outdoor rinks, since they;ve been collecting the data. The poor kid who was killed in Guelph was hit in the head by a puck that flew over from an adjacent HOCKEY game — that could happen to you if you walked by a full-equipment hockey game too. There are bad flukes that become tragedies. But you can’t wear a helmet everywhere to avoid them.

    As for the GTHL’s U.S. data on all those poor hockey coaches falling on their heads and dying, in Kennedy’s article — who knew? I’ve asked Kevin for the source, to find out a little more. When you don’t understand something, it’s always good to try and find out a bit more. Ditto for anyone on this list — if you’d like to understand this issue better, come down to Dufferin Rink and locate this doddering old activist. I’d be happy to introduce you to some of the many young shinny players here — they can explain the game better than me.

  17. Shinny is not hockey, in the same way that soccer is not football.

    A game where you use a hockey stick to hit a puck into a net is not a game where you use a hockey stick to hit a puck into a net, in the same way that a game where you primarily use your head and feet to kick a round ball into a large net is not a game where you primarily use your hands to carry an oval ball over a goal line?

  18. This is indeed all about liability shifting. Watch for Kevin Mercer to be back in the near futre to enforce new regulations requiring all skaters to wear helmets on city rinks for liability shift stage 2. The argument will go something along the line that shinny and power skating are not much more dangereous than outright recreational skating.

    I’d be interested to know whether anyone has any data on whether those new to skating have more head injuries than shinny players. Probably not, but then that isn’t stopping the city now. I certainly do see many beginners, adults and kids, falling down at my local rink.

  19. I love how Jutta takes four lengthy paragraphs to tell what Shinny is and then at the end says, “’d be happy to introduce you to some of the many young shinny players here, they can explain the game better than me.”

    People on here seem to know enough about hockey and shinny without having someone talk condesendingly to them by a person who seems to think she knows a lot on the subject, but in the end, admits that others know more than her

    Its that attitude that reaffirms my belief that the fight Jutta is making is for naught, and she’s looking for easy things to piss off City staff.

  20. Jutta > To use Don Cherry to make a point on the safety of hockey is like asking George Bush his opinion on the Iraq war. Both answers are coming from nearly retarded people.

    Stick to farmer markets and making clay huts. Stay out of the discussion on hockey/shinny safety where you seem to have very little knowledge. Asking for data to back up a point that only needs common sense for the answer is just as bad as the councillors who ask for staff reports just to delay something they don’t like.

  21. I used to attend school-wide skating sessions at rinks when i was in grade school.

    There was three separate incidents where a child fell and got a concussion.

    They were not playing shinny or hockey. merely skating. Its the slippery ice that is an issue, not the sport.

    Jutta is a moron. Leave our city staff alone. they are already incompetent as it is.

  22. Ummmmm, jt?
    If you met Jutta on the street would you call her a ‘moron’ to her face? Please don’t take advantage of the anonymity of this forum, and be respectable.

  23. Shinny to hockey isn’t like soccer to football. But it is like, say, pick-up touch football to league tackle football — it just ain’t the same thing.

    I don’t know what is causing the alleged decline in shinny playing, but it ain’t demographics: the proportion of kids playing hockey has gone up, the only major sport other than soccer to do — see table 7 here. (Only tennis, football, equestrian, and “other” have risen really substantially, like doubled.) I suspect it’s a combination of weather and just plain activity replacement, i.e. videogames and other media use for sports.

    In any case, the helmets-for-kids requirement is not nutty, although a bit counterintuitive (you have to stuff a hat under their, remember), but I would not want to see it for adults. The use of GTHL/OHL/NHL data to demonstrate why, though, seems just plain silly. A game where you use a hockey stick to hit a puck into a net is not a game where you use a hockey stick to hit a puck into a net, in the same way that a game where you primarily use your head and feet to kick a round ball into a large net is not a game where you primarily use your hands to carry an oval ball over a goal line? Anticorium, when you start militating for mandatory helmets in outdoor touch football, let me know.

  24. I am in complete agreement with Jutta.
    Bubble packing our children eliminates a huge degree of environmental learning that carries us through our lives.
    [people who have always worn a helmet have less concern, and ability in protecting their heads in other incidents (cycling for example)]
    Obviously if everyone wore helmets at all times (as is recommended in the Werthers candy adds, in small print) there would be less head injuries. In fact there would probaly also be less ‘thinking’!

  25. Bruce Gavin Ward: Some truth in your comment that we are “bubble packing” our children. But there’s also a darn good case to be made for simple and sensible safety precautions. Wear seatbelts in cars, wear helmets when riding bikes, etc. …

    As for Jutta Mason, I’m not quite sure how it comes about that she speaks of “we” as if she and some others are running things at City rinks. It’s the City that sets the policies, for the very good reason (among other reasons) that it’s the City that bears the legal liability. On the day that Jutta Mason takes over ownership of the rink, she can set the policies.

    I have all the respect in the world for neighbourhood activists who make good things happen, but they need to watch that their heads don’t swell beyond the size of a large-size helmet, and be aware of what their actual role is, and isn’t.

  26. Very well put, Walt.

    Spacing should close the comments off at this point, so we can end on the high note of Walt’s sensible and articulate comment. Just a suggestion.

  27. For those folks on this list who may be curious about the game of shinny hockey, here are some links:
    1. — this describes the game I’m talking about, with toques

    2. — this is the web site I help to maintain, and which thousands of Toronto rink users consulted this winter

    3. — this is the web site that includes our inquiries into governance.

    Any of the folks on this spacing list are welcome to send material to either of those two sites, and we’ll be happy to publish them. But our posting rules will require some rewrites — the name-calling will have to go, and there are some fairly standard policies about backing up assertions:

    If anyone on this list wants to find out more (about shinny or about city governance), on the basis of the links above, come down to Dufferin Rink and have a cup of coffee with me and whichever shinny players are around. You can contact me through either of the web sites above. (Mail@)

    That includes (but is not limited to) the folks who feel they can call me a moron or whatever else — might as well show me (and the skaters and shinny players at the rinks) — that you still want to say those things in person. Let me know when you intend to come, and I’ll make sure I’m there.

  28. Jutta > Guess you didn’t want to take my advice? 🙂

    1. This is not a list. Its a blog.

    2. Thank you for the links. There shouldn’t be name calling in any comment, but your condescending tone is also a problem.

    3. You write: “…and there are some fairly standard policies about backing up assertions.” You should try and back up your own. Your examples in your first coment were poor to say the least, and you should be the one pointing out that its safe NOT to wear a helmet playing shinny, not the other way around. Just because shinny is supposed to be non-contact doesn’t mean it is.

  29. I am shocked a city official swore and encouraged suing a community volunteer. That strikes me as pretty rude for politically correct Canada.

    As an amateur shinny player here is my view after a few too short winters:

    believe it or not staff at dufferin have a system of sharing good quality helmets for kids and adults. You tell me where else they do this? I think that they have more than 30 or 40. I have seen whole school groups in helmets (and I and school groups can borrow skates and sticks), which is wicked! So Smart.

    So, I don’t think staff are failing in their do diligence, its like above and beyond. I have asked to borrow helmets when play is rough at other rinks and staff there refuse saying their helmets, 5 or 6 of them, are staff only..what the ?!

    Dufferin staff do not ban or swear at me when occasionally I go on the ice without a helmet. I only do that when I feel it is safe and every bloody time they tell me I can borrow one and that the rules are serious. They are kind of annoying in their do diligence cause they know me and tell me everytime anyways. but they tell me everytime!

    I actually play at dufferin because it is safer. Unlike other rinks the staff enforce age groups, like 18 and over, so I can play with other adults. They also kick off adults when it is time for little kids. Smart, safe practice eh? thanks to the staff or jutta or the city…or whatever.

    I am not the greatest shinny player. I have been learning to improve. When I play dropin, often there are so many local guys (Portuguese, Trini, Pakistani, Italian, Brazilian, German) who are really good players that I want a helmet AND STAFF bug me to put one on they don’t REFUSE to let me borrow one.

    I went all the way to Rosedale rink and Dieppe to play with friends from uptown where staff REFUSED to lend me a helmet! Those rinks and Renie are rinks full of kids and adults who are in amateur leagues and teams, they are really good. They are rich AND helmets are not offered, no staff bugs me to put one on and if I ask for one cause the local guys on teams are too fast, they refuse to give me. That is something to fix in the city before swearing at the public or a zero-tolerance policy.

    Just because there is compliance at some rinks like the rich ones doesn’t mean it is equitable. If it is total maybe some guys have been told not to skate…I have heard it is common up uptown. That is why my guys come downtown. Maybe the brains of the rich are worth more than down in Regent south where at a permit once this year, once again they had none for any of us or the kids.

    I can’t believe the logic here. I read about the death that made this policy back when it happened. IT WAS OFF ICE. The poor kid walked by a no boards rink. Should I wear a helmet when I walk by a rink? or when I drive my car? Yeah, probably.

    I like choice, accurate information and flexibility. When no one enforces age groups it is scary since 16 year olds are way better than me, a recent immigrant new to skating let alone shinny, imagine my mother hears about this. Then I want to borrow a helmet and outside of dufferin they refuse and it really pisses me off when the helmets are sitting there unused. So ungenerous and unflexible.

    Also different neighbourhoods and times of day need different rules, like at Nathan Phillips (no boards) late at night there is a good scene, half helmeted, no staff supervision. It is often too fast for me, then with no helmet I leave. I assess the risk myself.

    I have never been at dufferin without staff available to enforce age groups and lend me a helmet when the local guys are too good for me. In my experience, they seem supportive of the policy not against it. Why else have so many helmets available? but they treat me like an adult. I come to this country, I want to stay and fit in, shinny is part of that honestly its cheesy but i hate seeing rudeness from probaly highly paid officials when the first thing they should be doing is 1) making helmets (choice) available and 2) enforcing age group rules (smart and safe).

    the more i write this the madder i am so i hope you are still posting.

    And by the way, if I told my mom what shinny was to hockey on tv I would say it is like snowshoeing to skido. canoe to waterskido or whatever it is called. Always risk but different.

    and don’t score points on blog/ list who cares?
    Normally I would be on the ice but i think they are closed.

  30. More ridiculous nanny statism.

    “The only thing that’s changed is our neurotic obsession with insulating ourselves from every conceivable risk, no matter how small.” From

    Not sure why Spacing would close comments on an article just because someone agrees with Milo…condescending doesn’t begin to describe that post.

  31. Yannick,
    Some great comments and some desperately needed insight into how not all communities in Toronto are as privileged as some would like to think.

  32. Yannick — NO! Dufferin Rink is NOT closed, you can come down and skate. And introduce yourself at the Zamboni Cafe, you sound like you love rinks and you actually know something about shinny. Dufferin Rink staff tell me they’d like to put your name to your face, and shake your hand. (They’ve been shaking their heads at some of the comments here but — it’s free speech.)

    Eight of Toronto’s outdoor compressor-cooled rinks are still open (that’s seven more than in New York City or in Montreal — no other city in the world has as many rinks as we do in Toronto, even with 41 of them closed for the season). Here’s the list: The ice will be awful on sunny afternoons, no matter how cold (the sun’s too high in March), but okay (and sometimes beautiful) in the morning and in the evenings. And as you say, you can wear a helmet or not, depending on your own judgment (or the staff’s offer). It’s because there are lots of shinny players with good judgment, like yours, that there has never been a claim against the city for an unhelmeted head injury on an outdoor rink.

  33. My question is exactly what type of advocate for children makes the joke “Well I hope they’d sue the shit out of Jutta Mason,” said Mercer laughing. I am sure Mercer would claim that this comment was taken out of context or some such thing but my goodness as a city employee one would like to think he would have gone through any media training and would know better than to be caught on record making such a flip, crude, mean-spirited, personal attack in any context.

  34. I realise that some people here might not agree with everything that has been done at DGP but some of the posts here anti Jutta Mason are unreal. If someone said this kind of stuff about David Miller there would be uproar. (and before you ask, I don’t believe we’ve ever met and I’ve never been to DGP and can only go on press coverage of her organisation’s doings)

    There’s plenty of other parks in the city that need some help and if folks don’t like the help Ms Mason et al have been giving to DGP then kindly get organised so we can see what kind of job you’d make of it, since Parks and Rec haven’t got any sort of resources beyond preventing total collapse of the Parks system.