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Helmet standards could be sidelined

Federal election threatens safety benchmark

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By Andrew Mitchell

For more than two years helmet advocate Richard Kinar has been advocating for the creation of Canadian helmet standards for all sports, similar to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification for bike and hockey helmets. He has found supporters every step of the way, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the provincial and federal governments.

Even the CSA has agreed that more comprehensive standards and an education program are important to protect the public and encourage helmet use.

All that’s missing is $450,000, the remaining cost for the CSA to study and create helmet standards and public education programs for helmets used in skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, rock climbing, kayaking and other individual sports.

Canada currently does not have standards in place for those activities, and while many helmets on the market have passed American and European standards, some helmets on the market could be considered unsafe or are of limited use.

The B.C. government has already promised $50,000 in funding towards developing the standards, but Kinar is at a loss to explain why the federal government has been slow coming up with the $450,000. Now, with the NDP, Conservative Party and Bloc Quebecois threatening a no-confidence vote on a Liberal supplementary budget next week, and calling for a federal election, Kinar is concerned that the initiative will be lost and it will be several years before the standards are created.

“It’s a small amount of money, really, and one that could save millions or even billions of dollars in health care spending,” he said. “The cost of health care is going up and up, so prevention is a huge issue and proper helmets are a form of prevention. The idea that Canadians are out there trusting helmets that may not even meet Canadian standards, if we had them, is alarming.”

Kinar started down the road of being a helmet and safety advocate while working as a safety patroller at Cypress Mountain in 1999. He saw two younger kids collide at low speed wearing helmets, and was alarmed to see that one of the children was unconscious. Kinar did a little investigating and was surprised to discover that there was no Canadian standard in place, and there were no regulations for the kinds of helmets that could be sold in Canada.

His work has gained momentum in recent years, propelled along by a series of deaths from head injuries in B.C. and other provinces. Some of the victims were wearing helmets.

This fall Kinar asked Ujjal Dosanjh, the federal health minister, whether he would back federal funding for the CSA standards. With the Olympics coming and Squamish being designated as the outdoor recreation capital of Canada, Dosanjh said the standards were important for the corridor and people throughout the country.

“Everybody agrees that this is a public health issue, but they won’t come up with the $500,000 to fund this project,” said Kinar.

Kinar has been told by the CSA that it will take between 12 and 18 months to come up with standards for different helmets, and an education program for consumers. If Parliament is dissolved next week for an election, the earliest that the CSA could be awarded funding is late 2007, and that’s only if the funding is included in the first budget of the new government. The first test events of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games will be held in the 2007-08 winter season, and Kinar says it’s important to have the standards in place by then, because sport organizations and governments will be using the Games to encourage more Canadians, especially children, to participate.

Kinar says he has sponsors lined up that are willing to fund an education program in the schools once the standards are created. He has also lined up several MPs who would support funding the CSA standards, as well legislation requiring the use of the helmets.

“It’s a shame that something like this could be derailed by politics,” said Kinar.

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