Some of my fondest memories are winter skating on Lake Banook in Dartmouth as well as public skating at local arenas where we zoomed in, out and around people often to the chagrin of the skating monitors.

When we told our Mom we were headed for the lake I can remember her telling us to dress warmly and asking “is the lake safe for skating?” We had to wait until she checked and back then I think it was with the Fire Department. Back in the day we also didn’t have to wear a helmet. Today most people wear one on the lakes and they are mandatory at both indoor arenas and at the outdoor Halifax Oval.

The HRM website has a FAQ section under “Programs and Activities” which outlines the process HRM employs to ensure ice on outdoor lakes and ponds is safe for public activity. It states the Canadian Red Cross recommends ice thickness to be at least 15cm for walking on or skating alone, 20 cm for skating parties/games and 25 cm for riding a snowmobile on. The ice thickness testing start date is fluid beginning when ice has formed and it is safe for HRM staff to go on and test. HRM tests 70 lakes and ponds on municipally owned land at least once per week and posts ice thickness results on its website.

For the most part, the public skates on these lakes and ponds at their own risk. It would be difficult to maintain an action against HRM if someone were to be hurt going through ice given the website warnings as well as ever changing weather and temperature conditions. As mentioned in a previous newsletter article on street plowing the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Nelson (City) v Marchi, 2021 SCC 41 would apply. That case involved the City of Nelson, BC plowing streets but leaving “windrows” of snow along curbs which pedestrians had to step over in order to access sidewalks from the street. The decision provides guidance in determining if a governmental decision is a core policy decision immune from liability or an operational decision attracting possible negligence if proven there was a deviation from the proper standard of care which caused an injury. Again, tough cases to prove but not impossible.

For arena skating or outdoor skating on the Halifax Oval the rinks have their own set of rules for use. They typically mandate wearing helmets, need for skates on ice, appropriate speed, skating direction, no holding hands to create chains of people, no smart phones and no “horseplay” is tolerated. These arenas are private business and can limit access to the ice and eject people for non-compliance with rules.

If an issue arose of poor ice conditions or dangerous behavior being permitted inviting negligence the Occupiers Liability Act would apply. This Act creates duties on a person/owner who has physical possession, responsibility or control over the premises. That person/owner would be responsible as being tasked to ensure people coming on the property were kept reasonably safe while on the property. The age of the person coming on the property and the ability of that person to appreciate the potential danger when entering onto the premises are also key factors in the Act.

Most people who go skating are in it for good, clean fun so it is not often a situation arises requiring court intervention for an injury. Nova Scotians are very fortunate to have both outdoor and indoor skating options available to them so please enjoy, have fun and stay safe!