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Toronto kite fliers feel city trying to shoot them down, again

Municipal workers post signs prohibiting kite flying at Miliken Park, in Scarborough last summer.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's very own no-fly zone may soon get bigger as scorn grows for a popular form of aerial dogfighters whose stray string has been littering city parks.

Kite fighters are bracing for more restrictions as city staff begin considering new regulations on the sport.

"We're very disappointed," said Gogi Malik, head of a local group of kite fighters, whose numbers have exploded in recent years as new Canadians import a native zeal for the soaring dogfights of crepe paper and twine. "The city has told us not to worry, not to worry, and now this."

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Councillor Chin Lee, who incurred the venom of many fliers last year when concerns he raised about kite fighting resulted in an all-out kite ban at Milliken Park in Scarborough, recommended that city staff "consider the issue of regulating of kite fighting and the banning of hazardous kite strings in city parks."

The parks and environment committee forwarded the recommendation to city staff on Monday.

For many Toronto fliers, it smacks of an all-too-familiar assault against their pastime that's been ongoing for years. The sport involves two kite masters thrusting and parrying their tethered craft in an attempt to sever one another's twine. But that twine has, for the past decade, become the bane of park-goers who find it tangled among trees, shrubs and fields. What's worse, some hard-core fighters use metal, glass-coated or chemical-treated threads, creating a potentially dangerous form of litter.

For that reason, the city launched what some in the fighting community see as an anti-kite crusade, starting with a ban at Bluffer's Park in Scarborough 10 years ago and leading up to Mr. Lee's current motion.

"It concerns us that the actions of a few are punishing the whole," said Gary Mark, a member of the Toronto Kite Fliers. "It's similar to street racing. You don't ban all cars just because of street racers."

But Mr. Lee says he has nothing against the sport. In fact, as a boy in Malaysia, he became so obsessed with kite fighting that he would make his own string. Today he says he has great admiration for the deft movements that force kites to dip, dive and destroy.

"I used to fight in a very rural setting," he said, holding a box of discarded twine he keeps in his office. "In this urban environment in Toronto, we just don't have the room. I realize that, as demographics change, people bring in new sports, but we have to draw the line somewhere. We don't allow cockfighting or dogfighting just because they're new sports from other countries."

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Rather than more bans, Mr. Lee would like to see bylaws against twine treated with glass or chemical abrasives, also known as manja. The sharp thread is popular in traditional forms of kite fighting favoured by many new immigrants, according to Mr. Malik, whose group has been conducting workshops with kite combatants to let them know manja is less acceptable in Canada than in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal or any number of other countries where the sport is a national passion.

"We are even making an instructional movie," Mr. Malik said. "It will say what you can fly, what you can't. It's just a few bad fish causing the problem. We're asking that they come to us rather than ruin our culture of fun."

Some fliers point out that not all kite fighting is the same. A distinctly North American style favours non-abrasive, biodegradable lines made of waxed linen and a far more peaceful combat style. "It's more like fencing," Mr. Mark said. "It's more about evading your opponent, sparring and avoiding. The traditional style? It's basically a dogfight in the air."

That said, Mr. Mark believes the problem of kite fighting detritus can be quashed by enforcing existing bylaws against littering and metallic string. "I acknowledge that the line used is sometimes dangerous," he said. "But I had hoped we had an understanding with the city that this was an enforcement issue and that kite bans were not the solution."

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