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Ontario passes concussion safety law designed to protect players, educate coaches

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Ontario has passed concussion safety legislation designed to protect amateur athletes and educate coaches about the dangers of head injuries, calling the law the first of its kind in the country.

The bill — named Rowan's Law in memory of 17-year-old Rowan Stringer who died from rugby injuries — passed with rare all-party support Tuesday.

Rowan's father, Gordon Stringer, said he hoped the Ontario legislation would lead to reform in other provinces.

"The heavy lifting has been done here in Ontario,'' he said. "But this is not something that's an Ontario issue. This is something that needs to be addressed across Canada.''

The law establishes removal-from-sport and return-to-sport protocols for players to ensure they are taken out of a game if they are suspected of having a concussion. Coaches and teachers will also be required to review online resources that help them identify and manage concussions in players.

The bill also includes a concussion code of conduct that would set out rules of behaviour to minimize concussions while playing sports.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto critical injury lawyer Dale Orlando says as someone who has practised for over 20 years, he has dealt with hundreds of brain injury cases.

"Make no mistake about it — a concussion is a brain injury that is typically characterized as mild in nature," he says. "In my experience, the vast majority of people who suffer concussions go on to have a complete recovery within a few weeks or months.

"However, a small amount suffer major problems from their 'minor' injury," says Orlando, a partner with McLeish Orlando LLP.

He says this is particularly the case for those who suffer repeated concussions in a relatively short time frame.

"Rowan's Law is important in that it shines a light on the potentially serious implications of concussions," Orlando says. "It also addresses the 'shake it off' and 'get back in the game' mentality that has been pervasive in minor sports for decades."

Daiene Vernile, Ontario's minister of tourism, culture and sport, called the new law a "historic step'' that balances the approach to concussion management in amateur sport.

"The Rowan's Law Act will be a catalyst for longer-term culture change for concussion management and injury prevention in amateur sport and beyond,'' she said.

The legislation was created following a coroner's inquest into Rowan's 2013 death, adopting its recommendations and the work of a legislative advisory committee on concussion management and prevention.

Rowan died from second impact syndrome after multiple concussions. During the coroner's inquest her family learned that she had actually Googled "concussion'' before she died.

Rowan's Law was jointly introduced by Progressive Conservative, NDP and Liberal members.

Tory legislator Lisa MacLeod said she was thrilled to see the legislation pass but thought other provinces have been slow to follow Ontario's lead. She remained hopeful that the federal government will help move concussion safety forward.

MacLeod also praised the Stringer family for their work on the issue and said the involvement of former NHLer Eric Lindros, talking about his experiences, further helped shine on concussion safety.

"We're talking about concussions now,'' she said. "There's a great deal of awareness when you're at the hockey rink or the soccer field or the rugby pitch compared to where it was before.''

Lindros called the new law a "blueprint for this entire nation'' and said the culture around concussion treatment is changing compared to when he was playing professional hockey.

"It wasn't spoken of,'' he said. "I remember being sent to a migraine specialist and he turned around quickly and said 'you don't have migraines. You've sustained a concussion.' ... It just wasn't heard of to take time off.''

© 2018 The Canadian Press

— With files from AdvocateDaily.com

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