by Fiona Persaud
Dec. 2, 2009
Girl’s house league hockey took centre ice at city hall Tuesday evening, but after a heated four hour discussion the debate went in to overtime and will reconvene Thursday.
The Leaside Wildcats entered the public gallery wearing red and white jerseys. Accompanied by parents and coaches, they sat attentive and applauded and cheered when Mayor David Miller spoke about equitably accommodating ice time for girl’s hockey. Some left during the lengthy deliberation to skate at Nathan Phillips Square.
“This is an issue of principle about whether or not girls have equitable access or not,” Miller told council.
The issue was sparked by a letter to Miller from the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association on Oct 30. Its 900-member association made a complaint threatening to launch a human rights case accusing the city of not enforcing equity policies at public arenas. The association claims that the girls are shut out from prime hockey time, which is sometimes allocated to adult men for hockey, forcing the girls to rent expensive private arenas. Private ice can rent for over $300 an hour while city rinks cost $140 an hour for youth leagues.
“They got to get in the car and take a 45 minute drive just for practice,” said Frank Becker at Nathan Phillips Square as he laced the skates of the girls. He is also a manager of several teams in the league and his daughters also play for Leaside. “ They do that two to three times a week. We’re not trying to kick anyone off but the girls need it, which they’re not getting.”
The city currently owns eight arenas that are managed by private hockey associations. Of those eight, the Toronto Star reported that female teams receive only five of the 60 available primetime hours.
Councillors agree that the underlying issue is that there are not enough rinks in the city, but Miller told council that the problem cannot be ignored.
“Just because it is a challenge in facility doesn’t mean we can’t meet our equity goals,” Miller said.
“Priority is for the young kids. That’s what ice rinks are for,” Becker, a self-professed hockey dad, told reporters. “ If I wanted to play hockey at 10 o’clock at night, that’s not an issue. When guys my age are playing hockey, let’s just say at Forest Hill at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it’s not right. Why not let the adults play on private ice at $300 an hour and let the kids play on city ice at $160 an hour?”
Miller assured council that the matter was not made urgent because of his political ties to Nick Lewis, a father of a Leaside player and Miller’s senior economic development advisor, but rather it was a matter of equity.
“Girl’s hockey is booming and we have a duty to ensure that we do our best in the arenas that we own so girls have equity of opportunity,” said Miller, whose two children have played house league hockey.
Coun. Karen Stintz (Ward 16), who opposed the motion, spoke in an attempt to postpone the matter to a Jan. 8 meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee to accommodate the concerns of all community groups who use the arenas.
“You’re very aware of Leaside’s position,” said Stintz addressing the mayor. “Don’t you think that the council would benefit from the same kind of input from the other user groups that are currently using the ice right now such as skating clubs? Don’t you think they deserve the same opportunity?”
After much deliberation and crowd heckling, particularly from one woman who was eventually asked by Speaker Sandra Bussin to leave the public gallery, Stintz’s referral was turned down by a 14-24 vote while the debate over girls hockey in city owned arenas continues.