Commentary by Tom Henihan
Nothing can ruin one’s fun quicker than municipal bylaws.
Many a rock concert, late night party, fireworks display and bonfire singalong have had their flames quickly and unceremoniously doused by the meddlesome enforcement of bylaws. They are menacing, regulatory phantoms of which most are completely unaware until they commit an infraction.
Across Canada recently, there have been a rash of instances where bylaws have come into conflict with the very heart of the Canadian identity. With the number of instances across the country lately, from Nova Scotia, Ontario to Alberta, the game of shinny and the ice it is played on have been judged a breach of regulations and declared offside.
Excessive bylaws and the rigid enforcement of them is often symptomatic of a breakdown in community cohesion and basic civility.
Except in extreme cases, it is best to trust communities and families to use their judgment and do the right thing, to act safely, responsibly and play fair, as neighbourhoods and communities across the country have done with little oversight for time immemorial.
In all functioning societies as with all functioning relationships, there are exceptions to the rules, when common sense and reason prevail over the letter of the law. It is how we have always lived, it is what humanizes our collective experience and allows us to function. To be rigid about rules is just as damaging as flouting the rules; in both instances, matters reach an impasse and things of value are lost.
When the backyard rink and pond hockey come under siege from the authorities, I think it is safe to say that we are over-governed, relegated to less than responsible citizens. Those tasked with enforcing bylaws should exercise discretion, show respect and civility.
Of course, this stricture works both ways. In instances where the matter causes irreparable damage to the environment or genuinely infringes on others, then also concessions are necessary.
Pond hockey is usually a kid’s first real experience of the game allowing him or her to dream while developing an appreciation of the game’s dynamics. It also initiates the valuable understanding that the primary purpose is to be on the ice honing skills and having some fun.
Pond hockey symbolizes an integral part of the Canadian pastoral ideal and national temperament; it is democratic, social and open to everyone with a playful but spirited sense of rivalry. Pond hockey is the creation myth behind the NHL and to interfere with its inherent right to exist as it always has, to disallow it to occur spontaneously like winter itself is to destroy its essence.
If this bureaucratic meddling is allowed to continue, to future generations hockey will appear as something created in arenas that makes its way out to the neighbourhoods and communities, when in fact, the game originated on the pond and found its way to the arenas as did so many who triumphed and distinguished themselves playing the game.