Council votes to deregulate all on-street sports

During a meeting on Tuesday night, Kingston City Council voted to de-regulate all on-street sports in the city. Image via City of Kingston.

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, Kingston City Council voted to officially de-regulate all on-street sports. The move came following a report from City staff to Council, which outlined three different directions members could opt for with respect to on-street sports and other activities in the city. Since 2008, the City of Kingston has officially permitted street hockey through its Street Hockey Policy and Code of Conduct. While those policies expressly permit on-street hockey, existing bylaws make no mention of other sports and activities, such as basketball or touch football. 

Back in June, Council directed staff to explore various options to amend the Streets Bylaw in order to allow additional sports and activities on public roadways. As a result, staff prepared three distinct options for councillors to choose from. Option One would have seen the City expressly permit additional sports and activities, subjecting them to the same regulations as street hockey. Meanwhile, Option Three in the staff report would have seen the City stick to the status quo, continuing to permit only street hockey, while leaving other sports in a legal grey area. 

Instead, Councillors decided to support Option Two, which removes all mention of on-street sports from the City’s Streets Bylaw. The move effectively makes street hockey and other games like basketball and football, unregulated activities. According to the staff report, “this can be further interpreted to mean that the City would neither expressly permit, nor expressly prohibit, the playing of sports and games on a highway (roadway).”

Option Two was largely supported due to the fact that it treats all on-street sports equally. Staff also noted that the option is closely in-line with the approaches taken by similar municipalities throughout the province. 

“As part of this work, we looked at a variety of municipalities across Ontario and looked at the way that they handle sports, games, and other activities on their streets… There were very few municipalities that regulated [just] street hockey, or street hockey and basketball… The majority of municipalities did not expressly regulate sport or game at all,” said Ian Semple, Director of Transportation Services for the City. 

Speaking in favour of Option Two, Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme called it a “common sense approach.”

“The idea with Option Two is that we’re going to kind of take a position by not taking a position… If we were to say you couldn’t play anything in the streets, I think that would completely blow up, simply because there are a lot of safe streets to play [on],” he said.

“Our streets are still part of our city and they’re being used for many different purposes. We’ll never have enough parks, we’ll never have enough play space, so this is more about a common sense approach.” 

Photo by Marcel Schreiber.

Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos, who grew up in Kingston, noted that on-street sports used to be a popular activity for youth throughout the city, as he, too, spoke in favour of the second option. “Through[out] the 80s, street hockey was big in my neighbourhood, basketball was big, touch football was [also] big on the streets… I think it’s just a great avenue for us to have our kids out playing again. All too often we’ve been isolated, especially through the pandemic, our kids have been kept inside. it’s time for kids to come back out and enjoy what the city has to offer.” 

One of the major concerns surrounding the official regulation of on-street sports provided through Options One and Three had to do with the City’s potential liability in the case of loss or injury resulting from such activities. According to Jenna Morley, the City’s Solicitor and Director of Legal Services, the deregulation of street sports mitigates some of these concerns. “Option Two potentially creates less liability for the City. You’re not specifically enabling or authorizing the sports on the street, you’re taking the position that you don’t enforce that activity, so that would be something that we’d be able to rely on in a potential claim,” Morley said. 

While Council’s move de-regulates all on-street sports in the city, right-of-way provisions under the Street and Encroachment Bylaws ensure that sports-related equipment neither obstructs the flow of traffic nor impacts City services, should residents choose to continue to play hockey and other sports on public roadways.

“We have the ability through some of the general clauses that are contained in this bylaw, and others, to address any of the concerns that may come up… So, matters, as [they] relate to sports equipment on the right of way or in the right of way, [can] be addressed through some of the provisions that we already have,” noted Director Semple. 

Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn spoke in favour of Option Two as she criticized the City’s current approach to on-street sports.

“I think our current situation is basically a form of sports discrimination, to only have hockey there. As somebody who’s played a variety of sports, I think it’s important we encourage people to have options and choices,” she expressed.

“We’ve seen a decrease in physical activity, and that’s plummeted even further during this pandemic, unfortunately. We see that that leads to increased childhood obesity [and] other associated health risks. If we’re serious about the health and well-being [of youth], we need to allow our children the opportunity to play. Play, when you look at it, is something that isn’t regulated. Play is a freeform way [for] children [to develop] skills, and they need to have that extra opportunity.” 

Following a brief debate, Option Two was approved through a unanimous vote by City Council. 

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