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Net Loss: Town Kicks Out Community-Built Soccer Nets from Bovis Park in Acton

A video recently posted on social media showing Town of Halton Hills workers removing portable soccer nets from Bovis Park in Acton has raised some eyebrows. The nets were impounded on April 9 as a result of a  dispute between Town bureaucrats and community activist and net-builder Bradley Fitzsimmons, who captured the activity on his backyard camera. 

According to Fitzsimmons, whose residence is adjacent to the park, the nets have been allowed to stand for three years without incident, and have been used by hundreds of kids and others during that time. The nets in question are approximately four by six feet and were constructed out of wood by Fitzsimmons with the help of some other community supporters at a cost of about $600.

Originally, Fitzsimmons was requested to make sure the nets were tied-down via email on March 27. “I was asked to secure the nets, which I did, and went one step further to secure them according to Bill 99, Garrett's Legacy Act,” he said.

Garrett's Legacy Act was named after Napanee teenager Garrett Mills, who was tragically killed by an unsecured soccer goal post in 2017. The Bill is not yet a provincial law and current status is "Second Reading Ordered for Third Reading" at Queen's Park.

One day later,  on March 28, Mike Gordon, Supervisor of Parks and Cemeteries for Halton Hills, sent an email to Fitzsimmons explaining that the nets were a liability concern and that a complaint had been received about the nets. “We have no issue with you moving the nets to the area while in play but they must be removed when finished,” Gordon stated.

However, Fitzsimmons thinks moving the nets after they are staked and tied down is problematic, as the process takes half an hour or more. “What they were asking me to do is basically impossible. I can't spend half an hour securing the nets every time a child wants to play soccer and then have to run out and take them down.” he said. 

A  few days later, Fitzsimmons sent an email to Susie Spry, Manager of Enforcement Services, asking where he could go in Halton Hills to see nets that were both mobile and secure. “That was the end of the consultation. Instead of calling me back they just showed up one day and took them,” he said. 

Communications Director Alex Fuller has a different perspective on what led to the net removal on April 9: “At no time was Mr. Fitzsimmons instructed to secure the nets as part of a permanent installation as the municipality does not allow residents to erect permanent infrastructure in municipal spaces. As the nets are permitted to be used on a temporary basis in the park, Mr. Fitzsimmons was advised to secure the nets while they were in use,” said Fuller. “As for how long the nets have been around, staff can’t respond with any certainty, however they have never been 'allowed'.”

Fuller went on to explain that liability is one of the Town's major concerns when it comes to park equipment. “When the Town installs infrastructure (playground equipment, benches etc.) the equipment has been chosen to meet a specific standard to withstand public use and is installed professionally to meet certain standards. Regardless of how well intentioned and how well installed the soccer nets in question are, it is neither safe, nor appropriate to leave them in the park when they are not in use,” she said.

Photo: Halton Hills' Soccer goal posts without nets at Wallace Park.

Fuller also points out that there are soccer nets at Wallace Park, less than 400 metres away. However, Fitzsimmons says he is asked every day when the soccer nets will be going up. “Some of the neighbourhood children I know are coming to my house to use the basketball hoop,” he said. “I try to help the community where I can, especially when it comes to kids playing sports, which is part of  their development. I think there is  a lack of small-town sensibility at work here. Why take down something that's working?”

However, the Town's position on the nets is quite clear. “Mr. Fitzsimmons did not engage the Town prior to building or placing the nets,” said Fuller. “Rather, he unilaterally decided to install sports infrastructure in a Town park, without approval or support from the municipality, and then refused to remove that infrastructure despite being repeatedly asked to do so. 

So where are the confiscated nets now you might ask? Apparently they are currently residing at the Town's Works yard in Acton. “If requested, arrangements to retrieve the nets can be made by the owner,” added Fuller. 


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