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Vancouver park board targets heckling parents

Two girls take skating lessons at Sunset Rink in Vancouver in February, 2012. A motion that passed by a vote of 3-2 at a Vancouver park board meeting Monday night has advised city staff to come up with a code of conduct outlining appropriate behaviour for parents at minor sporting events.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver parents who heckle opposing players or referees at their children's hockey, soccer or basketball games could soon find themselves doing 100 push-ups or lugging oranges to the next game as a form of punishment.

A motion that passed by a vote of 3-2 at a Vancouver park board meeting Monday night has advised city staff to come up with a code of conduct outlining appropriate behaviour for parents at minor sporting events.

The punishments of push-ups and oranges, according to the commissioner who brought the motion forward, was meant to bring attention to bullying in a humorous way. The punishment was included in the motion.

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But the humour doesn't seem to be resonating with all park board commissioners, with some saying the board has overstepped its territory, and that determining appropriate behaviour should be left to the individual sports associations who use the city's facilities.

The motion was moved by Vision Vancouver commissioner Constance Barnes.

"I was saddened it didn't pass unanimously," she said. "It is a serious subject, and I believe it's the park board's responsibility to address a code of conduct and bring awareness forward."

The motion advises city staff to investigate all existing practices and those of other municipalities to find new ways of "educating and ensuring that all Vancouver Park Board facilities are a safe and encouraging environment for children and youth of all abilities, ages and backgrounds."

Ms. Barnes said that along with a code of conduct, she'd like to see signs that are "visibly accessible" in arenas and near fields that remind parents that all facilities should be a positive space for children. She says that there could also be a hotline created for people to call if they see others acting inappropriately.

Ms. Barnes says incidents like the one involving a Vancouver minor hockey coach who tripped two players after a game in 2012, shows the extent of the problem. The incident sparked public outrage and the coach was sentenced to 15 days in jail. In February in Port Perry, Ont., a parent was accused of attacking a teenage referee, leading to an assault charge.

Ms. Barnes added that the punishment in her motion, which has garnered significant media attention, wasn't meant to be taken entirely seriously.

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"In all honesty, I have had many parents come up to me and say 'right on.' I doubt we're in a position to oversee it or put that into place, but I don't think it would hurt anyone to do a couple of push-ups, or for that matter, supply oranges to the [other] team if they got caught swearing," she said, with a slight chuckle.

Not everyone is laughing, though.

"She [Ms. Barnes] said this was humorous, but I don't see anything humorous about it," said Melissa De Genova, a Non-Partisan Association park board commissioner who voted against the motion. "I don't think there's any room for that in the conversation of bullying."

Ms. De Genova added that the park board has no place micromanaging the sports leagues that use their facilities.

"These issues are already being handled and they're being handled at the grassroots level and that's where they need to stay," she said. "If punishments are being imposed by the park board and we're not committed to enforcing these punishments, then it really takes away from the grassroots efforts."

Roger Barnes, the president of B.C. Soccer, said that while his association already makes the issue of bullying a priority, he wasn't against working with the park board.

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"The issue is an important one for everyone involved in sport … It's important that we have a positive environment for our kids and everyone should work collaboratively to help bring that about," he said.

Gord Schmidt, the president of the Vancouver Minor Hockey Association, said his organization supports "any initiative that will create a positive environment for players," but added that he wasn't sure there was a need for the park board to enforce any type of punishment as most leagues already have a code of conduct.

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About the Author
News reporter

Daniel Bitonti is a Vancouver-based reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before joining the bureau, Daniel spent six months on the copy desk in the Globe’s Toronto newsroom after completing a journalism degree at Carleton University. More


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