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A Canadian Woman Is Fighting for Her Right to Toboggan

A Hamilton woman filed a Change.org petition in an effort to get her local government to roll back a decade-old rule about not sledding on city slopes.

by Raf Katigbak
Jan 7 2015, 7:27pm

Photo courtesy of Laura Cole's Change.org petition " LET US TOBOGGAN!!!!"

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

Tobogganing, one of Canada's iconic pastimes, is under attack. Some US cities are banning or restricting the activity on certain public slopes in the wake of some expensive lawsuits, and that is making some people very angry.

Judging by the comments in the original National Post report—which call the restrictions everything from "pathetic" to essentially an all-out assault on our freedom—it's clear that Canadians take sliding down a hill on a piece of plastic very seriously.

Before we get our snow pants in a twist thinking that we're about to lose our right to have good, clean, Canadian fun because of a bunch of safety-obsessed scaredy-cats, it's important to note that most Canadian cities are still fine with citizens hurling themselves down snow-covered hills at uncomfortable speeds. Some public health entities in Ottawa and Alberta not only promote the winter activity, but also post helpful safety tips like wearing a helmet and not improvising difficult-to-control sleds made out of garbage bags.

But in places like Hamilton, the price of going for a quick rip on your special edition Brett Hull GT Snoracer could result in a hefty fine of up to $5,000, according a rule that has been in place for more than a decade. (Despite that law, the city was forced to pay lawyer Bruno Uggenti $900,000 after he injured his spine on a toboggan run.)

To raise awareness of this egregious municipal buzzkill, Hamilton resident Laura Cole started a Change.org petition titled "LET US TOBOGGAN!!!!" When reached by phone, Cole told VICE, "I do understand there's risk involved [with tobogganing] but there's risk involved in everything we do... Of course we accept the risk when we go down that hill. We're all aware of that."

Cole's petition has garnered more than 1,000 signatures since it began in November, and this includes support from people in places as far off as Louisiana and London.

"Some of [the people who have signed] want to come visit Canada and go tobogganing, and to not have that ability... I just don't understand why," said Cole. "Yes, people get hurt, but that's just like playing any organized sport, like hockey."

Although official studies on toboggan-related injuries in Canada aren't readily available, according to this Alberta Health Services website, from 2004 to 2008 there were an average of 410 sled-related injuries treated annually in Alberta emergency departments. According to this news report, Montreal Children's Hospital's emergency department treats 125 tobogganing injuries a year. Half of those involve brain traumas.

Cole says that neither the dangers nor the bylaw have stopped some Hamiltonians from whipping out their Krazy Karpets on the city's hillsides (in fact, Cole says she's actually seen police encourage wayward tobogganers to have fun on the slopes), but she still believes the bylaw is sending the wrong message to the public, who may be missing out on some much-needed outdoor time.

"I don't think it's fair to deprive these kids of [tobogganing] while most of them are playing video games and watching TV indoors during the winter. And it's especially unfair for parents who can't afford more expensive winter sports like hockey," Cole says. "We're Canadian. We play in the snow. I think it's important to keep this in our heritage."

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