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Gretzky and The Residence Requirement Debate in Minor Hockey

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).

Photo by gbishop courtesy of Flickr

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.

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  • Eotm

    Residency rules are extremely dangerous and should be abolished.  My daughter plays Ringette and her body is owned by a middle-aged man from a competing association (our assn doesn’t have an A or AA team so she is assigned to the next closest assn)…from the time she is 12 until she is 19.  If she wants to play at the A or AA level she must do what this many says for her entire teenage career.  Simply put,  it is perverted. She is told “submit or quit”.  This man has more power and control over my daughter’s career than Graham James had over the players he abused.  It contravenes the Code of Conduct and Ethics (balance of power between player and coach).  It is also a form of Bullying (Threatening Loss of Opportunity).  My daughter is afraid to play for this man, and has been driven to play house league, hampering her career and dreams of playing at a higher level.  The Ontario Ringette Association supports this abuse, admitting that “abuse may have occured, but the parties followed the proper procedures for the abuse to have occurred.”.  Proper procedures for abuse???  Unfortunately, whistleblowers are threatened by the ORA with sanctions.    Residency rules are archaic and extremely dangerous, having been abolished from other sports, including hockey.  To be blunt, residency rules are a sexual predators’ “dream come true”. Men can own a girls body, and her dreams, for her entire teenage career.  The potential for abuse is obvious.  Shockingly, the ORA stubbornly clings to this archaic and abusive rule.  The ORA not only allows it…they endorse it.
    This is 2012.  The bodies of  teenage girls should not be owned and controlled by men, or any adults. 

    • http://twitter.com/jrhockeyrecruit jrhockeyrecruit

      Wow, when you put it in the Graham James context that is disturbing. Does the ORA not have a dispute process to get a release? I have heard of at least a few examples of minor hockey players getting releases where coaches are abusive or have criminal pasts. 

      • Eotm

        We followed the process, and found avenues for a release, but in my opinion the ORA ignored timelines and manufactured the result they wanted.  At any point the Executive had the power to create change but chose to simply say “The rules are the rules”.  We were told that if we didn’t like the rules, get them changed, but it is tough when you are facing an old boys mentality and are threatened with harrassment and sanctions when you do submit a complaint using the proper channels. At one point an Executive member told us that the rules were there because “girls must be controlled”.   They openly demand submission and obedience, not empowerment for girls.  The vast majority of people in Ringette are  wonderful…it’s a great sport with people who volunteer for all the right reasons.  A few taint the group.

        • http://twitter.com/jrhockeyrecruit jrhockeyrecruit

          Ya the old boys club is one to watch out for. So is your daughter going to stop playing or truck through?

          • Eotm

            It will ultimately be her decision.  Unfortunately, families get frustrated and move on to more progressively-minded sports, like girls hockey.  It’s sad, because ringette is a beautiful game.  Ironically, ringette was originally created to give girls a safe game of their own.  There are so many dedicated and talented people involved in the sport, and it is such a fast, exciting game.  It should have more exposure and enrollment than it currently does.  There are many great grassroots campaigns underway to help grow the sport, but ultimately they are hampered by a dangerous and  archaic rule like this one.

          • http://twitter.com/jrhockeyrecruit jrhockeyrecruit

            Ya girls hockey does seem to be doing well. Something we would like to write more about. Well best of luck!