To toboggan or not to toboggan? Canadians can’t agree

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Cities are justifiably scared of lawsuits, parents are overly litigious, and all the poor kids are missing out.

A number of Canadian cities are struggling with whether or not they should allow sliding on city-owned land. Hamilton has had a no-sliding ban in place since 2001, although as of yet nobody has paid the $105 fine for whizzing down a hill. Toronto has a bylaw against sliding and created a stir in 2011 by asking police to patrol a hill when sliders refused to obey. Ottawa allows sliding only on designated hills. Sudbury shut down a popular hill after an injury last year, while St. John’s is reviewing its policy.

“It’s not so much the activity as much the legal environment we’re in,” John McLennan, Hamilton’s manager of risk management services, told the CBC. “Injured parties are now much more likely to sue for damages and, in turn, the courts have placed a very high responsibility on property owners to protect users, even in situations where they have not been invited onto the property and/or when they are not exercising reasonable caution.”

Hamilton knows firsthand what can happen. In 2004 a lawyer in his late forties injured himself while sliding on a city hill. He won a $900,000 settlement in 2011, despite the “No Tobogganing” sign posted at the top of the hill and the fact that he’d already broken his shoulder in a previous sliding accident.

While the reluctance of cities to approve a potentially injurious activity is understandable, the extent to which kids’ freedom to play outdoors is being stifled by legal concerns is getting out of control. After all, it’s the kids who suffer while the adults protect themselves from legal battles.

“A ban outright? It may reduce your injuries, but it also encourages kids to stay home and play Nintendo games and adults to stay home and watch TV. Anything that restricts or discourages people from going out and having fun – as a family or individually or with friends – I think is bad,” says Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, past-president of the Canadian Medical Association.

I say we teach kids to be careful, instead of trying to remove all risk from their lives and take the joy out of a wonderful winter activity. Learning to take responsibility for risks in any sport is part of growing up. And if you’re really that worried, put a helmet on your kid or have them go down the hill feet-first.

Canadians have found one clever way to assert their right to slide. The Great Canadian Tobogganing Map allows anyone with a Google account to add or edit the best sliding hills across the country. When I checked it for the first time yesterday, I was amazed to see how thorough it is and pleased to see a number of my favourite sliding hills already located.

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