A proposal to ban tobogganing at all but two municipal parks in a city east of Toronto was voted down after a lengthy council debate and a wave of public pushback.
City staff in Oshawa, Ont., will instead look to remove hazards where possible and use existing bylaw powers to post signs banning sleds on the most dangerous hills, said city councillor Brian Nicholson, who spoke out against the ban.
The proposed ban set off a heated public reaction before it was even considered by city council on Monday, councillors said. Emails from residents, originally included in the public meeting agenda, told the city to “stop being a Grinch” and turning two-year-olds into “criminals”.
The proposed ban was part of a set of recommendations drafted by staff after the city's insurer identified a number of risks associated with popular tobogganing hills.
“It was obvious from the beginning that it was a bit of an overreaction,” Nicholson said in an interview. “It had no public support whatsoever.”
Councillors debated amendments to soften the proposed ban for roughly two hours Monday. First, they voted to send it back to committee; then, in a reconsidered vote after a lunch break, council unanimously voted to scrap the recommendations altogether.
“I think common sense won the day during the break,” said Nicholson. “It's better to end it now than have it drag on through another committee meeting and another council cycle and upset more people.”
With the proposal scrapped, the city's current bylaw stands. It says it's an offence to toboggan where signs indicate its prohibited. Nicholson says he's aware of around three such signs in Oshawa's more than 100 parks.
The insurance review looked at 10 city-owned hills popular with sledders and found a number of issues that had to be addressed to mitigate risks, according to the city report. The insurance report has not been made public.
The city shares an insurance pool with several other municipalities in the Region of Durham. Uxbridge, citing an insurance risk assessment done on six of its hills, permitted tobogganing on one of those slopes this winter.
Coun. Derek Giberson says since the insurer's report pointed out certain liability risks, Oshawa had to act. If the city did nothing, then someone who had been injured on a hill identified as risky by the insurance review decided to sue, Oshawa could be on the hook, he said.
But he says the city's existing power to sign dangerous hills can address those risks going forward.
“We just weren't using the tool that was already available to us. And now, I think, with this assessment that was provided by the insurance, that will be the approach going forward,” he said.
“We can't just say, 'well that's nice' and pat (the insurer) on the head and send them on their way.”
A number of cities, including Toronto, post signs to indicate where tobogganing is prohibited under local bylaws and have a list of hills inspected regularly by staff.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.