Mixed messages mask safety issues tobogganing on municipal property

January 20, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Municipalities are sending mixed messages on liability when it comes to tobogganing and pond skating on municipal property. Despite warnings from city lawyers about liability, Toronto City Council recently approved $25,000 to create a skating program on Grenadier Pond in High Park. Meanwhile, municipalities such as Hamilton and Orangeville continue to enforce extremely unpopular tobogganing bans. These bans are so unpopular residents defiantly toboggan as an act of protest against what is viewed as silly by-law.

With tobogganing and pond skating almost guaranteed in the coming weeks, municipalities are sending mixed messages that may in fact be creating new and unforeseen liability issues. In most cases an outright ban on tobogganing or pond skating is a black-and-white approach that is unnecessary and creates more problems. By creating a ban, municipalities may in fact be creating a new and unforeseen liability for themselves. Municipalities tend to own a lot of real estate making it difficult to post signage banning tobogganing or pond skating on all city owned property.

Posting signs on popular hills and ponds may in fact create an issue of negligence in areas where signs are not posted. Signs in popular locations may force tobogganers and skaters to use less safe areas where signs are not posted and they are more likely to get injured. Failure to enforce the ban through signage and by-law enforcement may increase the portion of responsibility attributed to the municipality if a case goes to trial. This can lead to the municipality be ordered to pay hefty damages.

Similar situations exist in public swimming pools operated by a municipality. Users are accepting a level of self-responsibility when choosing to use the facility. An acceptable level of care obliges the municipality to ensure that it has done all that it can to prevent injury and ensure people enjoy the pool facility in relative safety.

The municipalities of Ottawa and Calgary take the same approach to tobogganing and skating by designating safe locations and offering tips on how to stay safe. This a much more sophisticated and common sense approach. The long-standing ban in Hamilton has not been an effective deterrent to end tobogganing. The ban in Orangeville is an irritation to local residents that created tobogganing parties to protest the ban effectively putting more people on the hill. People have been skating on city-owned ponds for hundreds of years. Simply banning the activity does make it go away and more open-minded municipalities are becoming increasingly aware of this fact.

By Brian Cameron

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