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The Ontario Hockey Federation information package to parents states that:
For all minor hockey programs in the Canadian Hockey Association there is a general requirement that players shall be registered as a member of the minor hockey team or association that matches their residence.
The reasoning behind the minor hockey residency rules is to ensure that there are minor hockey programs available to as many people as possible as close to home as possible. Another purpose of the regulations is to ensure, to some extent, competitive balance among all minor hockey teams.
There is a “waiver” system that allows players in AAA only to get around this requirement in certain circumstances.
There has been a fair number of appeals within the GTHL and other minor hockey leagues along with formal law suits on the residency requirements. Some have argued that it is a breach of peoples rights to mobility, and even discriminatory under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, in most instances the residency requirements imposed by minor hockey leauges are upheld, barring players from playing for their team of choice. Or worse, barring them from playing at all.
The Ontario Hockey Federation has a formal appeals process for players to try to get released from player cards. Some notable NHL players have had to go through the process to get a release; including Wayne Gretzky. Justice Southey in Gretzky et al v. Ontario minor Hockey Association et al decided that the great one could not play for the Toronto Young Nationals as the resident requirement dictated that he play in the OMHA and not the MTHL (now the GTHL).
In that case the judge described “the boy, Wayne Gretzky” as an exceptionally gifted hockey player. The MTHL had refused to allow him to play for the Nats as the Ontario Minor Hockey Association would not approve a transfer from his team in Brantford to Toronto. At page 2 of the decision the judge stated:
In my view, the Court in this case ought not to become involved in a minute legalistic analysis and interpretation of the rules of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, the Ontario Hockey Association, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and the Metropolitan Toronto Hockey League. There has been considerable argument as to the effect of the provisions of those four sets of rules and there is much to be said for the submission by counsel for the plaintiffs that the two boys do qualify under the rules to play for the Toronto Nationals. At the same time, however, I can see merit in the submission made by counsel for the defendants that it would be undesirable for boys of the ages of the two plaintiffs to be induced to go from one city to another away from their homes for the purpose of playing hockey, and that their residence requirements do involve a bona fideresidence in the municipality in which the boys wish to play. That could mean a residence that is not primarily for the purpose of playing hockey in a different municipality.
The material would indicate that a number of responsible persons feel that the two boys would benefit from living in Metropolitan Toronto and playing hockey for the Toronto Nationals. In my view, however, this Court ought not to embark upon an inquiry as to whether the boys would be better off in Toronto than in Brighton or Brantford. As I mentioned during the course of the argument, I do not think this case should turn into a consideration of what is in the best interests of the infants as would be the guiding consideration, of course, if it were an action for custody or access.”
Even for the Great One, courts are reluctant to interfere with non-profit amateur sports organizations unless there is a clear breach of a legal right. Where such a right is breached, or player and his parents feel particularly aggrieved, each league has its own appeals process.