Heading in the Right Direction: Rowan’s Law on Concussion Safety Passed by Ontario Legislature

15 March 2018

On March 6, 2018, Ontario passed a law that aims to prevent and manage concussions in amateur competitive sports. Bill 193: Rowan’s Law (Concussion Safety), 2018—known as Rowan’s Law—is the first law of its kind in Canada. The Act will come into effect whenever it receives Royal Assent, which is a date that is still to be determined.

Rowan’s Law takes its name from 17-year-old rugby player, Rowan Stringer, who died in 2013 from second-impact syndrome. This condition occurs when a person sustains a new concussion while still recovering from an existing one. In the five days before her fatal brain injury, Rowan suffered two concussions during the course of two rugby games. In an effort to commemorate Rowan, the last Wednesday in September will be known as Rowan’s Law Day.[1]

To protect amateur athletes like Rowan from sustaining concussions, Rowan’s Law imposes various requirements on Ontario sport organizations. These are persons or entities that carry out, for profit or otherwise, an activity in connection with an amateur competitive sport.[2] The requirements fall under three broad categories, each discussed in more detail below:

  1. Concussion awareness resources;
  2. A concussion code of conduct; and
  3. Protocols for removal from and return to sport.

Concussion Awareness Resources

The Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport will be approving certain information and materials that deal with preventing, detecting, and managing concussions. The Government of Ontario will ensure that these concussion awareness resources are available to the public. Sports organizations will be required to get athletes, parents/guardians, and coaches to confirm that they have reviewed these resources in the following circumstances:

  1. Before registering an athlete in a sports activity, the athlete must confirm that, within the last twelve months, they have reviewed the resources;
  2. If an athlete is under the age of eighteen, the athlete’s parent or guardian must also confirm that they have reviewed the resources; and
  3. Before permitting a coach, or other prescribed individuals, to work for the sports organization, those individuals must confirm that they have reviewed the resources.

The regulations may provide for additional circumstances where sports organizations must require individuals to confirm that they have reviewed the resources. Sports organizations can offer additional resources if they wish.

Concussion Code of Conduct

Sports organizations will also be required to create, implement, and make available a concussion code of conduct. What must be included in this code of conduct will be prescribed in the regulations. Sports organizations will need to get athletes, parents/guardians, and coaches to confirm that they have reviewed their code of conduct in the same circumstances as described above.

Protocols for Removal from and Return to Sport

Sports organizations must establish removal from sport protocols for its athletes that:

  1. Includes a specific process to immediately remove an athlete who is suspected of having sustained a concussion; and
  2. Designates persons to ensure that:
    1. An athlete who is suspected of having sustained a concussion is immediately removed;
    2. Their parent, guardian, or other prescribed persons are informed of the removal; and,
    3. The athlete does not return to training, practice, or competition except in accordance with the sport organization’s return-to-sport protocols.

Sports organizations must also establish return to sport protocols that apply when one of its athletes has sustained—or is suspected of having sustained—a concussion during a sports activity associated with the organization. The protocol must include a specific process for the athlete to return to training, practice, or competition. Like the removal-from-sport protocols, the return-to-sport protocols must designate persons responsible for returning the athlete to the sport and informing prescribed entities or persons that the athlete is doing so.

The regulations may prescribe responsibilities to additional persons and/or additional requirements.

Other Provisions

Bill 193 also permits the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations under the Act, including those that may exempt certain persons or entities from any of its provisions. The regulations may apply differently to certain sports organizations or activities.

Amendments to the Education Act

In addition to the requirements set out above, Rowan’s Law amends the Education Act. Part XIII.1 of this Act will be renamed “Pupil Health,” and a new section will be added. The new section will allow the Minister to establish and require boards to follow policies and guidelines regarding concussions in pupils. The Minister may also regulate concussions of pupils in private schools, and compel such schools to comply with these requirements.

Conclusion

With the passing of Rowan’s Law, Ontario has provided the basis for an approach to concussions in competitive amateur sports. It remains to be seen if other provinces and territories will use it as a template to follow suit.

While the Bill awaits Royal Assent, Ontario sports organizations should review their policies and procedures regarding concussion prevention and management. Once Rowan’s Law and its regulations come into effect, these organizations should update their policies and procedures to comply. They should also create processes to develop and implement a concussion code of conduct and protocols for both removal and return to sport.


[1] The Minister may, however, declare Rowan’s Law Day to be on another day for any particular year.

[2] These activities will be prescribed by the regulations, which have not yet been drafted.


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