Canada/More and more Quebec cities allow free play in the streets

Published on 20/05/2024 | La rédaction


The Highway Safety Code prohibits free play on Quebec streets. Some municipalities have decided to adopt by-laws to allow this.

Although playing in the street has long been a common practice among young people, a large proportion of the population is unaware that the Highway Safety Code prohibits it. But this rule, though official, can be adapted, much to the delight of the many youngsters who use the streets to play tag, hopscotch or field hockey.

The mayor of Mascouche and vice-president of the Union des municipalités du Québec (UMQ), Guillaume Tremblay, admits to having broken the law himself. I'm 40 years old, and when I was young, I used to play field hockey in the street, and for us, it made no sense not to be able to play in the street.

The ban on playing in the street has been in place practically forever, but the police turned a blind eye, and we let the kids play in the street," he explains.

In practice, the police are often tolerant, but a simple complaint from a neighbor can change everything.

According to articles 499 and 500 of Quebec's Highway Safety Code, no one may, without legal authorization, occupy the roadway, the shoulder or any other part of the roadway.roadway, the shoulder, another part of the right-of-way or the approaches to a public road in such a way as to impede the movement of road vehicles on that road or access to such a road, under penalty of a ticket.

Since 2017, however, a law passed by Quebec allows cities to opt out of this prohibition, provided they adopt a bylaw with strict, well-defined criteria. With this in mind, the towns of Mascouche and Saint-Lambert decided to lift the ban last week.

The mayor of Mascouche points out that the relatively low average age in Mascouche and the strong presence of young families were factors influencing the adoption of this bylaw.

Well-defined criteria

In Mascouche, we decided that [free play is tolerated] in compliant situations, for example, when the child is with a responsible person [...] not playing on curves or at a reasonable distance from parked vehicles," explains Mayor Guillaume Tremblay.

In Saint-Lambert, Mayor Pascale Mongrain maintains that the municipal council didn't want to send out a signal that at any time, police could issue a ticket to people playing freely in the street.

That's not the kind of society we want in our city, and it goes against the values of our citizens and our community.

A quote from Pascale Mongrain, Mayor of Saint-Lambert

For example, the city has adopted a bylaw to allow children to play freely, provided they play in residential zones where the speed limit is 30 km/h or less.

Our municipal council is very keen to encourage active living, sports and play, so for us, it was a no-brainer to amend our traffic by-law to allow play," she says. I raised my children in Saint-Lambert and they played in the street, just like all the neighbors, just like everyone else. It's a town where everyone has always played in the street.

Mascouche and Saint-Lambert aren't the first municipalities in Quebec to adopt such a bylaw since 2017.

Two years ago, Gatineau became the first city to allow free play on its streets. Limbour district municipal councillor Louis Sabourin said at the time that a great deal of work had been done to determine which streets were safe and which were not. Gatineau has even developed an interactive map to indicate which streets are safe for play.

A growing trend

Other Quebec cities are looking to adopt bylaws allowing free play on public roads. Such is the case in Rivière-du-Loup, where an official complaint last April prompted the city to send an agent to force children to put away their field hockey balls, sticks and nets.

The family in question, unaware of the by-law, was surprised and frustrated by the intervention.

The city has since indicated its intention to modify its by-law to allow free play.


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