Sunday January 10, 2016

Has old-fashioned fun been trumped by fears of injury and legal action?

Pond hockey in Lake Louise, A.B.

Pond hockey in Lake Louise, A.B. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports)

Listen to Full Episode 1:52:59

As everyone from Girl Guides, to businesses, and local councils spend millions on liability insurance, one Alberta town tries to ban shinny on the local pond. Has old-fashioned fun been trumped by fears of injury and legal action?

For generations Canadians have been scraping off ponds and rivers for informal games of shinny. But maybe not for much longer.

Building ice-forts, sled runs for toboggan, making backyard skating rinks, snowball fights in the school yard—these are just some of the activities which have come under scrutiny as municipalities and communities are increasingly fearful (some say 'paranoid') about risk and liability—in short the fear of being sued if something goes wrong and people get hurt.  

Dr. Brian Goldman

Dr Brian Goldman, guest host for Cross Country Checkup.

The fear has a financial cost. Every year, millions of dollars are spent by everyone from businesses and schools to Girl Guide and Scouting Organizations on risk management and insurance premiums. Countless hours are spent getting Canadians to fill out waivers and permission slips not to mention police background checks and going over rules and safeguards.

Just before Christmas in Toronto there was talk of stopping the tradition of skating on Grenadier Pond in High Park
because the local council does not want to take responsibility for possible injuries.

And it's not just in winter—traditional playground equipment, firework displays, water sports have all come under bureaucratic scrutiny.
Many believe that concerns over risks and liability are overblown and interfering with our lives and communities. Have we become too risk averse? Do litigation lawyers and insurance companies have an incentive to make things seem more risky than they really are?  Where's that 'sweet spot'... the balance that comes from learning and growing by taking calculated risk? How much does that depend on your own particular perspective? 
Our question: "Has old-fashioned fun been trumped by fears of injury and legal action?"


Naomi Buck
Freelance journalist. 
Twitter: @nbuckbuck

Dr. Charles Tator CM, MD, PhD, FRCSC FACS
Professor of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto
Founder of ThinkFirst Canada and a Board Member of Parachute Canada. Member of Order of Canada.
Twitter: @CharlesTator 

Bonnie Lepin
Personal injury lawyer, and President of Bonnie T. Lepin Law Corporation. 

John Bell
Lawyer specialising in education law

Michael Ungar
Professor at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University 
Canada Research Chair in child family and community resilience and author of 'Too Safe For Their Own Good'
Twitter: @MichaelUngarPhD