Column: Grumpy neighbours jeopardize childhood tradition

By Brian Blom

It’s a ritual for many children growing up in Canada: racing home after school to join neighbourhood peers in spirited street-hockey matches, heart-filled games that would last for hours, kids being kids.

The case of Gary Kotar, a Hamilton father who was dragged into court by an upset neighbour for violating a rarely used city bylaw by playing sports in the street, has made many Canadian hockey fans, young and old, reflect.

It’s hard to imagine a Canadian childhood without street hockey.

However, Kotar’s case has

reminded us that this popular Canadian pastime is in jeopardy, not so much because of the law, but because ignorant neighbours like Nadja Ciuriak wish to see children’s sports banned from their streets.

The Jan. 7 verdict saw Kotar acquitted on charges he and his son violated a city bylaw by

retrieving an overthrown football from their neighbour’s property.

Ciuriak, the enraged defendant, said her complaints stemmed from an eight-year

dispute over his son playing sports on the street.

Whatever the issue, the case struck a nerve in many communities across Canada, drawing support on both sides of the issue in the days to follow.

In Winnipeg, 150 people flooded the busiest street in the city, Portage Avenue, for a

massive game of street hockey on Jan. 8, put on by two local radio hosts in support of the players under attack from the law.

The same day, professional athletes, including National Hockey League stars, spoke out against bylaws, which have been used to break up street hockey games on streets from coast-to-coast.

Even Ontario Premier Mike Harris joined in, raving about taking to the streets with his sons Mike Jr. and Jeffrey outside their North Bay home to engage in this form of Canada’s national pastime.

In Ottawa, the CHUM media group took its own stab at the critics (though it was swift to suggest otherwise), hosting a street hockey tournament in the parking lot of its George Street location on Jan. 19.

Some argue that street hockey can lead to noise violations and complaints and, most importantly, place the safety and well being of our children in jeopardy. This is understandable.

The real problem, though, is the nagging neighbour who is more concerned about a harmless ball rolling onto their property, or someone accidentally stepping on their grass.

For many children, street hockey is a tradition. While it

allows us to spend time with friends, it also helps to define us as Canadian.

Some critics feel street hockey can be hazardous to safety and property. But this can be

easily avoided with a little compromise.

Just relax, and let kids be kids. Don’t spoil the fun.