Ontario is looking to adopt the first concussion legislation in Canada in a bid to protect young athletes from the dangers of head injuries.
The bill is dubbed Rowan's Law, for Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old Ottawa girl who died in 2013 after suffering concussions playing high school rugby. The legislation is proposed by Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, in whose riding Rowan lived, and is backed by all three parties – NDP MPP Catherine Fife and Liberal MPP John Fraser are co-sponsoring the bill. It is set to be debated in the legislature on Dec. 10.
"Rowan's Law could save lives," Ms. MacLeod said Wednesday at Queen's Park, flanked by Rowan's parents, Kathleen and Gordon Stringer. "I'm beyond humbled and somewhat emotional that members of all political parties have indicated their support."
Rowan's Law would set up an expert advisory panel to implement 49 recommendations made by a coroner's inquest into Rowan's death.
Among the inquest's recommendations are that athletes be held out of games if they are believed to have a concussion; that athletes, coaches and parents receive better training on recognizing and handling concussions; and that concussion awareness be taught in Ontario schools.
The panel would have a year to implement the recommendations. It would report to Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau and include civil servants from the education, health and children and youth services ministries.
"It's almost impossible to describe losing a child," Kathleen Stringer said. "I would never want another family to have to experience this again."
Rowan, captain of the John McCrae Secondary School rugby team, died in May, 2013, after hitting her head during a tackle in a game. She had suffered concussions in the two previous games.
"Right now, in the curriculum, teachers do not have to discuss concussions at all. Imagine if Rowan had started in school and every year she had learned about concussions; she had learned about the fact that if you play with a concussion, it can have terrible consequences," Ms. Stringer said. "We need to have the youth and the adults – coaches and parents – educated, because we're confident that if Rowan had had the knowledge, she would have made a different choice."
Ms. Fife said that, in her previous job as president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, she frequently got calls from athletic associations and parents who did not know what to do when a child suffered a concussion. Her own son has suffered two concussions, one while playing hockey and another on the school playground, and neither she nor the school knew how to handle them, she said.
"The severity of concussions was not fully understood, and school boards did not have effective return-to-learn or return-to-play strategies," she said. "We can't control when people get concussions, necessarily, but we can control the protocol of how schools and families and athletic associations deal with the post-concussion."
"It's about awareness," Mr. Fraser said, adding: "The danger is that parents and students and teachers and coaches don't recognize the symptoms."
Gordon Stringer appealed to MPPs to make sure Rowan's Law gets swiftly passed. He pointed to Bill 39, legislation that would have established rules for teachers and coaches on handling concussions among students, but died on the order paper in October, 2012, when former premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued parliament.
"It would be a terrible tragedy to have another opportunity to get concussion legislation in place fail. So I'm looking to all members of the provincial legislature to show up on Dec. 10 to debate as they need to debate and to pass this legislation into law," Mr. Stringer said. "This isn't a political issue. This is a health-and-safety issue."