In Toronto, not all toboggan hills are created equal.
Some, according to the city, have hazards like trees, rocks and stumps that may make them unsafe for tobogganing.
Earlier this month, the city banned tobogganing on 45 hills, leaving only 29 open to winter activities like sledding.
“I started getting text messages and emails about this stuff, and I was caught off guard too, frankly, because there was no consultation,” said Brad Bradford, councillor for Beaches-East York.
“This is why people get cynical on the City of Toronto, and this is how we’re earning the reputation of ‘no-fun’ city.”
On Feb. 6, the councillor is planning to put forward a motion at city council to reverse the ban. Given what he’s already heard from fellow councillors, he says he expects the motion to be well-received.
Those familiar with personal injury law suspect the city initiated the ban to avoid liability, should someone get hurt on one of the hills.
“It is completely nonsensical, it makes zero sense,” Sivan Tumarkin told Global News Toronto.
The lawyer and managing partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP said lawsuits for accidents on toboggan hills are very uncommon and hard to win.
Still, he says an outright ban would never prevent people from suing anyway.
“(The city) can deal with the problem and minimize the liability in different ways. They can mandate helmets, for example. They can mandate supervision … they can have signs that say, ‘Use a toboggan at your own risk.”
Tumarkin suggests even listing the specific hazards on each hill may do a better job at deterring people, and helping prevent the city from being liable.
Given Toronto’s unusual winter so far, it’s safe to say there won’t be much tobogganing on the city’s snowless hills any time soon.
But as many look for other avenues to have fun, pediatricians worry about a trend emerging in recent years with respect to children spending time outdoors.
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A guidance document recently issued by the Canadian Paediatrics Society says children have had their playtimes become more “structured,” and have had fewer chances to engage in “risky play.”
Dr. Suzanne Beno, author of the report and chair of the injury prevention committee at the Canadian Paediatrics Society, said risky play can be defined as activities where a risk for non-serious injury is present.
“(Risky play) can improve physical, mental, social health. It helps prevent managed conditions like obesity, anxiety, behavioural issues,” she said.
Beno says it seems there’s been a focus on preventing all kinds of injury during children’s play, not just serious ones. She says a shift in our focus is needed to move away from making playtime too safe and reframe our perception of risk.
“From a psychological standpoint, (risky play) builds resilience, conflict-resolution skills, improves their ability to communicate, co-operate, compromise with others,” Beno said.
Beno said tobogganing can be considered an example of risky play, because children are playing from a height and with speed.
However, while the doctor stressed she could not comment specifically on the Toronto toboggan ban, she said it makes sense to protect children from dangers they may not be able to assess themselves.
“I don’t know what assessment the city has done … but if there were concrete blocks, or different hazards on these hills, where children can’t appreciate that, then we have to intervene.”
Beno added that there’s a difference between ‘risky play’ and ‘hazardous’ play, where you can foresee a danger that the child cannot recognize themselves.
Risky play does not mean leaving children to play unsupervised, for example, or in heavy traffic, she said.
Risky play is also “child-driven,” where children choose the activities they’re comfortable with, instead of being pushed out of their comfort zone.
Overall, Beno says it’s important for families to find time for other outdoor activities even if there is no snow on the ground in Toronto.
Meanwhile, on the toboggan ban, Mayor Olivia Chow said she’s trying to find the balance between risk and reward.
“I’ve been working with our city manager to find some ways to find a middle ground,” she said Thursday.
Chow said when Bradford’s motion is put forward in February, she expects discussions will lead the city to figure out what the resolution will be.
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