Published July 13, 2023

Parents hope soccer net bill will prevent deaths of more children

The legislation went through committee hearings Thursday
Ontario soccer net bill - CP

By Allison Jones in Toronto

When David Mills got a call in May of 2017 that his 15-year-old son had been gravely injured on a soccer field, he struggled to grasp what could have gone so seriously wrong, unaware at that time of the dangers of unanchored nets.

"As I got closer to the hospital, I began to pray out loud, it was pretty basic and primal: 'Please God, please God, please, please, please, please, please God, please God, please, please, please,'" he recounted Thursday to an Ontario legislative committee. 

"I was hoping that whatever happened would not leave him brain-damaged. We could adjust if he was paralyzed. Life would be dramatically different, but as long as he isn't in a coma, or suffering serious brain injuries, we'll get through this. Not once did I consider anything beyond that."

Garrett Mills, from Napanee, Ont., was killed when a 200-pound movable soccer net fell on top of him, fracturing his skull. He had been playing in a park with his girlfriend and his best friend doing chin-ups on the crossbar of the net.

Ric Bresee, who represents the eastern Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington for the Progressive Conservatives, earlier this year introduced Garrett's Legacy Act, which would establish requirements for safe usage of movable soccer goals that are used by members of the public. 

The legislation went through committee hearings Thursday, the step before bringing it back to the legislature for third and final reading. It has the support of all parties, which should ensure its passage later this year.

"We sat with Garrett's body for quite some time before we each said goodbye in our own way," David Mills told the committee. "I gave him a final kiss on the cheek, and then we went home and sat silently in the living room, trying to grasp what had happened."

Mills said other losses he has experienced since then, both of his parents, several dear friends, pale in comparison to the loss of a child.

"It is not something I would wish for anyone to have to endure, which is why I am here today," he said. 

"Of course, those who oversee those nets had every good intention for those nets to be anchored, but good intentions were not enough and, frankly, are never enough. I firmly believe that if those responsible for those nets had an actual law to abide by, Garrett would likely still be here."

Movable soccer goals have been blamed for more than 40 deaths across North America, mostly of children, Bresee said. Several other jurisdictions have enacted similar laws, he said.

"I want to bring that same peace of mind and safety to the people of Ontario, that their children will not be injured during the recreational activities of playing soccer or just while playing around a movable soccer goal," he said. 

The bill would give the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport the power to make regulations setting out how the nets should be secured on various surfaces, as well as regulations around inspections, Bresee said.

Jacqueline Palm's 15-year-old daughter Jaime was crushed and killed in 2014 in Bradford, Ont., by a movable soccer net that had not been secured. Palm told the committee that wording in the bill that the minister "may" make regulations and "may" appoint inspectors should be changed to "shall." 

Jaime was athletic, outgoing and vibrant, Palm said, one week away from starting Grade 10.

"Losing Jaime as a result of a preventable, avoidable, tragic accident is heartbreaking," she said as her voice filled with emotion. 

"Our lives will never be the same. A part of me left with her that day. I wake up every morning knowing that I will never be able to hear her laugh again, or her tease her brother. I will never be able to feel that loving, two-legged wrap-around hug that she never forgot to give me."

Palm said she grieves the loss of moments such as when the two were driving on a variety of sports-related road trips, and she would look over to see her daughter falling asleep in the front passenger seat.

"Now, every day when I am outside, I desperately look for that butterfly that is symbolically stopping by to say hello or to let Cody, her younger brother, and I know that she is with us when we are stopped at a red light on one of our many drives and trips."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2023.

Banner image via The Canadian Press

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