City council backs equal access to ice time

Toronto city council voted Friday to give boys’ and girls’ hockey teams equal access to ice time at eight board-run arenas in Toronto.

The eight arenas will now be required to submit their ice allocation plans to the city for the 2010 hockey season and beyond. The vote was almost unanimous at 36 to 2.

In addition, council passed an amendment made by Ward 31, East York-Beaches councillor, Janet Davis, asking the boards of the eight rinks to meet with city officials to determine if they are following the current city policy for allocating ice.

Toronto requires 60 per cent of ice time go to youths and then be divided proportionally. That means if more girls play, they are automatically supposed to get more time.

The amendment passed 38 to 1.

Council had been debating the hockey motion since Tuesday night.

The debate was often emotional, with some councillors sharing anecdotes of their children’s experiences playing hockey in the city. Others spoke of changes in gender equality from the time they were kids.

Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth councillor Paula Fletcher said she was delighted to see more girls playing the quintessential Canadian sport.

“I wish back in the 1950s that hockey had been one of the options for me growing up. It was only figure skating. No offence to figure skating, but that’s all we were allowed to do,” she said.

“When we think about hockey, we don’t think about women. And that’s why this is a really important debate in our city.”

But Coun. Davis said the issue was less about gender equality and more about ensuring all Toronto arenas follow the same policies.

“This is not about girls bumping boys in house leagues. (This is about) ensuring boys and girls who are involved in ice activities get their proportional share of the available ice,” she said. “It’s about ensuring all city-owned arenas, board-run and city-run, will be transparent and fair process for allocating the ice time.”

Some councillors criticized the mayor’s decision to bring the debate to council at all. Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth Councillor Case Ootes called the discussion premature, saying it should have been discussed at the committee level first.

“This whole thing is a disgrace. It’s a travesty of the process of transparency,” he said. “Council jumped to the conclusion that these allegations are true.”

But, Davis was quick to point out that the city is not accusing board-run arenas of being in the wrong.

“We’re not saying arena boards are doing a bad job,” she said. “But we have a responsibility as a level of government that is going to be challenged under the Ontario Human Rights Code over whether or not our policies are fair.”

The issue of equal ice time for kids’ hockey leagues originally surfaced from a complaint in November by the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association.

TLGHA president Ron Baker threatened to launch a human rights complaint against the city because he said the 900-member league was not getting their fair share of ice time at Ted Reeve and Larry Grossman Forest Hill Arena.

Further, he said they were completely blocked from getting time at North Toronto Arena. All three are run by independent boards.

Mayor David Miller responded by asking Coun. Davis, the chairperson of the Community Recreation and Development Committee, to address the complaint by filing a motion at council.