Game Fixer

Fight the power

BRIAN BAKER, The Game Fixer

My suburban street in Whitby, once Rice Drive, was home to plenty of kids who spent late nights in gently falling snow playing ball hockey.

The fuzzy yellow tennis ball would often freeze, feeling more like a lacrosse projectile than its giving hollow rubber.

I often donned my dad’s old Cooper goalie pads, blocker and mitt, the sepia-aged leather in classic Tony Esposito style.

As was the fashion in the early ’90s my over-size Chicago Blackhawks jacket protected my body from slapshots, and if the Fenton twins, brothers of a friend at the time, hacked at my ankles I’d DDT them into the nearest snowbank.

Ah youth.

Somehow, though, in Toronto and in many GTA municipalities, it is a crime to take to the street to play Canada’s game.

Say what?

I can imagine Starsky and Hutch careening down a midtown street, drawing their pistols, slamming young kids — Habs fans probably harder — against the hood of their Gran Torino and hauling them to the station on the charge of playing pickup.

I doubt my example of Swiftian hyperbole would take place, but any kid would deposit a solid gold brick if they knew they were fighting the law, and the law won.

Still, I needed some answers, so I called Ron Hamilton, manager of traffic operations for Toronto and East York, and he assured me there’s no special crackdown being organized by TPS.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way it’s being dealt with in the city right now,” he said of enforcing the bylaw. “It’s not suddenly police are out there throwing kids against the wall.”

The regulation, as far as Hamilton can tell, can be traced back over 30 years in all of the pre-amalgamation municipalities.

Often there’s a call, most likely by some windowsill referee, concerning property damage or noise — the latter Hamilton acknowledges as a red herring.

“We’ll get a complaint that a car has been scratched or dented, or a mirror has been broken or something of that nature, and they point the finger to the game or sport on the roadway as being the incident that precipitated the damage,” Hamilton said, shifting his thoughts to the what-ifs. “They’re wondering, and even the insurance bureau of Canada weighed in on this and the potential impacts to people if the city were to go ahead and rescind the current prohibition.”

Now I can respect the city protecting itself from liability and keeping the bylaw, one that Ward 21 councillor Josh Matlow tells me is archaic, but there has to be some leeway when letting kids play sports on the street.

The legendary “Car”, “Game on” sequences immortalized by actor  Mike Myers in Wayne’s World are very much a fabric of Canadian culture, so I’m in Matlow’s corner when he seeks out a compromise.

“I don’t like policy that doesn’t reflect the reality of our city, and what I’m going to bring to council in mid-May is a proposal that council show some confidence in our city’s parents,” Matlow said, during a time where he was planning a street hockey game of his own.

It may seem as though the young councillor is thumbing his nose at the establishment by organizing such a coup, but he does so with a warm heart.

“I appreciate the work (city staff) do,” he said. “In fact, we pay them to worry about everything and it’s our job as councillors to arrive at a reasonable resolution.”

Freeing up 40-km/h streets so kids can play, under the go-ahead by parents agreeing not to send the city into litigation, is just one of those reasonable gestures.

But then again, those whistle-blowing zebras hiding behind their curtains might just continue to play spoil sport.

“I don’t think it’s fair that if one resident doesn’t like the sound of kids playing that they should be able to have the cops come down and kick them off the streets, as does happen once in a while,” Matlow said. “Kids playing street hockey is a really positive part of our neighbourhoods.

“We don’t want a generation of kids where every one of them is sitting in their parents’ basement playing video games all day.”

And if it wasn’t for youthful defiance of city bylaws, many of Canada’s talents, from Rick Nash to John Madden to Angela James, wouldn’t be skating up a storm in the NHL or the Olympics, or even getting inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Fight the power.

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