Bill introducing soccer net anchoring requirements passes second reading
After politics twice interrupted Garrett’s Legacy Act via a prorogation and an election, it appears the assembly at Queen’s Park is prepared to move quickly on the bill to improve portable soccer net anchoring.
The bill was first drafted by then-Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith and his staff, then introduced in the legislature last November. It came in response to the tragic death of 15-year-old Garrett Mills, of Napanee, when an unanchored soccer net at King Street Park toppled on him last May. With Smith now the government house leader, Willowdale MPP Stan Cho reintroduced the bill. It passed second reading Thursday with Mills’ parents Dave and Gwen in the gallery.
The legislation would require any organization or entity providing movable soccer goals for public use ensure they are located on level services and securely anchored to the ground in accordance with a manufacturer’s specifications, if outdoors, or securely attached to the floor by weights if located indoors. Anyone contravening the act would be subject to fines of not more than $500 per day to a maximum of $5,000. It also allows the Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport to appoint inspectors, establish a complaints mechanism, and prescribe further requirements if necessary.
In introducing the bill, Cho spoke of Mills’ nature and the “entirely preventable accident” that took his life.
“Garrett was a friendly, positive young man who enjoyed making other people laugh, especially through his silly puns. He made people better just by being around him,” he said, later adding he had the privilege of talking with Dave and Gwen about their son over a lunch engagement.
“I really wish that I had met Garrett. One of his favourite sayings was ‘Get out there and change the world for the better’ — at 15, to have this sort of wisdom. I think that is something that all of us here in this place should aspire to. He wanted to change the world, and it sounds to me like he would have been an incredible leader, had he just had the chance to grow up,” Cho continued. “I am so inspired by Garrett’s memory, by his wish to change the world for the better.”
He also told the assembly that over the past 40 years in North America, there have been over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries caused by the collapse of movable soccer goals.
“Almost all of these accidents involve children, some as young as six years old,” Cho said. “I’m sure all members of this House will agree… that we must make every effort possible to prevent these kinds of accidents and protect Ontario children at play. Most people simply don’t recognize the danger movable soccer goals can pose in our community spaces like parks, schoolyards, and community centres, the places most parents assume are safe. These are incredibly heavy pieces of equipment and they can weigh up to 500 pounds, yet because of their design they are extremely prone to tipping.”
Cho said while the act prescribes an enforcement measure, he hopes it will simply encourage organizations and municipalities to ensure the necessary provisions are in place. He also argued the bill isn’t overly onerous.
“This bill is measured. It does not require substantial resources or red tape to enforce, neither does it overburden community organizations with additional regulations or costs. These new regulations would be minimal and inexpensive, yet effective.”
Members of the opposition NDP indicated they planned to fully support the bill.
“This private member’s bill is an example of how the legislature should work,” said Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, who said as MPPs there isn’t anything more important than protecting children and compared it to Rowan’s Law, which introduced new concussions protocol in youth sport.
“This bill is very similar. I was shocked by the stats on the number of children who have been either killed or injured due to blunt force trauma from soccer goalposts not being anchored down,” he said. “I truly believe that if we don’t take action on this issue, we may see these numbers rise.”
His party colleague, Taras Natyshak, of Essex, was in agreement. He spoke of his own teenaged children, who play rep soccer, and spoke about how it is a wonderful game, an affordable way to promote healthy exercise. He said with its popularity growing, it’s not uncommon to see fields with 20 or 30 nets at a community field — and sometimes, they aren’t in use yet are accessible, like the net at King Street.
Natyshak directed his comments at Mills’ parents and said he felt Garrett was like someone he’d have befriended in adolescent.
“This kid was, I’m sure, incredibly athletic and raring to go. I’m so deeply saddened for you that his life was cut short. But indeed, the work that you’re doing — this bill, a legacy, is what we will have. He will be forever known as having initiated this and protecting other kids. That’s a wonderful thing.”
Natyshak said the legislature could proceed with expediency, adding “You will find no roadblocks on this side — as fast as we can get this thing done. Let’s move this through this House and through the committee so that another season doesn’t go by without having all moveable soccer nets anchored and all associations aware of the regulations and responsibilities under it.”
Hastings-Lennox and Addington MPP Daryl Kramp also spoke in support of expedient, cross-party support for the bill. He called Mills a “true credit to his community, which I’m now privileged to represent” and credited the Mills family for their resilience and determination to help others.
“Regretfully, as we’ve heard as well, Garrett was not the first Ontario youth killed by toppling goalposts, but his parents, Dave and Gwen, want him to be the last. As a parent and grandparent myself, I can only imagine — so bless them, particularly as in their grief, they’re reaching out and they’ve sought to help others…. Let’s stand together with them,” he said. “This is the third time it’s been introduced in the last eight months… This time, let’s get it done, now, in his memory and for his legacy.”
Smith, who rose in question period that morning to answer a question from Cho to bring more awareness to the life-saving bill, called the unanimous passing of second reading a “monumental step” in that process and, addressing Dave Mills, said “We’re going to make it happen, buddy.”
The bill will now proceed to committee deliberations before returning for a third and final reading.
On Facebook, after the debate on the bill, Dave Mills posted “Another hurdle crossed.”
Earlier in the week, he indicated he was happy to be informed the bill would be re-tabled and debated and expressed thanks to Smith for the time spent meeting, researching, and writing the bill. He also offered gratitude to Cho for continuing it and optimism about the bill.
“We know that none of this can bring our son back, but hopefully the end result will keep this kind of unnecessary tragedy from ever happening to another family in Ontario,” Mills posted.