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Sliding hill risks: Ontario cities struggle with liability

01/08/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 03/09/2015 05:59 EDT
The closure of a sliding hill in Sudbury has sparked debate about how to handle the unofficial outdoor activity.

The City of Greater Sudbury does not sanction sliding on any city property, but there are many popular sliding areas within city parks.

This winter, a long-used hill at Queen's Athletic field has been has fenced off because of a serious injury at the site last year.

Some cities are dealing with the risks and liability around sliding by creating sanctioned areas.

For a number of years, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has operated a sliding area at Finn Hill.

​Chief Administrative Officer Joe Fratesi said the municipal hill is unsupervised, but city staff to do check it for safety hazards and install hay bales at the bottom to prevent injuries. 

"It's listed with our insurance company. Our insurance company is aware that it is something that we do indeed sanction," he said.

"I think our insurance companies expect that we are reasonable in both providing the opportunity and reasonable in making sure that they are properly maintained is the mark that we have to achieve."

In Sudbury, the city said it has a responsibility to keep people from sliding on city property because it doesn't maintain or monitor the areas to ensure they are safe.

Doing so would require resources, and Mark Signoretti doesn't think it's money well spent at this point.  He's the city councillor for Ward 1, which includes Queen's Athletic field.

"I think there's a lot of areas in the community where people can take advantage of sliding. To put a staff member on and to incur costs for the city at this time, I don't think it's in the best interest," he said, adding the severity of the slope and proximity to the skating oval make the Queen's Athletic hill a higher-risk spot for sliding.

The City of Sudbury said it will be putting up signs warning against sliding in other popular areas on municipal property, but so far no other fences have gone up.

​The City of Hamilton has taken a more extreme approach to tobogganing on city property. It has a city-wide ban and fines of up to $105 for zipping down a city hill.  No person has ever being fined for sledding, officials report. 

The city says its bylaw is more for public safety and to prevent any legal issues that could arise. A 2008 Ontario study by Dr. Charles Tator, a concussion brain injury expert, found the activity ranks among one of the most deadly recreational activities, in terms of fatalities per population.

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