If you’ve snowboarded in the streets, there’s a high likelihood you’ve interacted with police, angry landowners, and building managers. With these exchanges, you’ve probably heard all sorts of things. Comments ranging from, “Sorry guys, it’s a liability issue. We can’t have you snowboarding here.” To, “Hey you little shits! If you don’t leave right fuckin’ now, I’m calling the cops!” There are about as many responses to street boarding as there are people in the world. However, what is the legitimacy behind some of these comments? Is liability an issue? Or, what can the cops really do? We try to answer some of these questions and provide insight into working the system and handling confrontations.
To help answer these questions, we asked an Albertian lawyer and a police officer to help. Before saying anything else, it is important to mention that everything you read in this article is based on the laws in Alberta. They do not span the country. Still, I think it’s a helpful sample and microcosm of the legal system in Canada. Also, everything in this article is legal information, not legal opinion. In other words, this article is only meant to educate. It is not for any other purpose—always do your own research!
Words by William Fraser
Let’s start from the top. What laws are being broken when snowboarding in the streets? When speaking to the lawyer, it seems like the two most common legal infractions would be mischief and trespassing. Trespassing is defined as physically intruding without permission or authorization on another person’s property. Or, if consent was granted and then revoked, remaining on the property is also trespassing. If you’re snowboarding on anyone’s property, you’re trespassing. However, this does not mean you’re going to jail—obviously. To be charged with trespassing, you must have been warned in some way prior to the offence. Being warned means that the landowner/resident has issued a “No Trespassing” sign or has given you a verbal warning. Once this happens, you’re fair game to police, peace officers, or even to landowners/residents. It seems crazy, but in Alberta (and possibly other places in Canada), landowners and residents are legally able to apprehend you and take you to the nearest Provincial Court of Justice of the Peace. There are also instances where this can happen with no warning necessary. These places are lawns or gardens, crops, anything with a man-made or natural boundary, livestock dwellings, or bee farms... Save the bees!
For your first trespassing offence, the charges can be up to $10,000 and up to six months in prison. You can be charged with $25,000 worth of fines and up to six months in jail for your second offence. If no charges are being laid by The Alberta Crown, trespassers can also be sued by the landowner/residents. However, if you haven’t caused much damage, suing you in civil court wouldn’t be worth it. The legal fees would outweigh the cost of repainting a handrail or damage to a lawn. That being said, snowboarders can theoretically be hit with some pretty substantial fines. However, to what degree is somewhat unknown and left up to the judge. At this time, we could not find any Alberta cases involving snowboarders and trespassing, which suggests that this doesn’t really go to court. If it does, your penalties will be determined by variables like your age, prior charges, the amount of damage caused, if an arrest was resisted, etc.
Mischief is a charge that might be more likely for street snowboarders. To be charged with mischief, you have to do any of the following: 1) Willfully damage property. 2) Interfere with the lawful use of a property. 3) Render property dangerous/unusable. Or 4) Interfere with someone’s lawful use of the property. Anyone who commits mischief to the point of endangering someone’s life can get sentenced to life imprisonment. Anyone who causes more than $5,000 worth of property damage can be hit with fines and up to 10 years in jail. And, anyone who causes less than $5,000 worth of damage can also expect fines, but only up to two years of imprisonment. So, if you’re going to damage something, keep it under 5K! Also, not all infrastructure is charged equally. If you choose to board on a war memorial, you can be hit with an easy $1,000 fine and the maximum potential jail time. Riding on cultural properties like libraries, museums, or graveyards can also result in greater punishments. Technically, under the Education Act, if you loiter, interrupt the proceedings of a school, or trespass at the school, you should be given a mandatory court order.
Again, the likelihood of getting these charges is debatable. After talking to a cop about it, it sounded like what you get charged with is kinda up to how they feel that day and, more importantly, if they think it will hold up in court. That’s a big one. If a cop thinks that the charge won’t go through in court, they are not likely to issue it. Charges have to be reasonable.
"Be confident in what you are doing and talk to them like an adult. That can go a long way." –Craig McMorris
DO GOOD, BE NICE
When talking to a police officer, it was hard to get some solid numbers. He said that this is because each person’s damages, intent, and actions would have to be the same to give clear dollar amounts. Because that’s not how things work, the dollar amounts can really range. On the low end, however, assuming that you’ve cooperated and haven’t caused much damage, these might be some of the fines you could see:
These charges are much less than the maximum charges listed above, and many of them are bylaw infringements—not criminal charges. So, although there was a lot of heavy info shared in this, the more accurate punishment for regular snowboard damage is not too severe. And, to avoid serious reprimanding, just be nice. When talking to the cop and the lawyer about this, they both agreed on that. Don’t swear at people, don’t taunt people, don’t do things that get people fired up. Instead, have a conversation with them. Ask them why they want you to leave, work with them to mitigate some of their fears. Lots of people have no idea what we are doing, and that’s intimidating. Snowboarders can even go as far as to offer homeowner’s a place in the credits or a free copy of the magazine that the spot might be published in. If it’s a corporation, maybe a space for advertising in the video. Depending on who you are and what you want to offer, that stuff can go far.
Trespass on-premise: $287
Dangerous operation of rollerskate, in-line skate, skateboard, scooter, or the like: $250
Rollerskate, in-line skate, skateboard, or ride a scooter or similar device on downtown sidewalk: $100
Movement of any sand, gravel, grass, leaves, snow, ice or other material on sidewalk or road: $250
Climb/interfere with any item of street furniture: $250
ASK FOR PERMISSION
One of the most underrated things street snowboarders can try to do is ask for permission. If a spot is really heat, maybe try asking for permission. Last year, Craig McMorris—whose job essentially requires him to cause mischief and trespass—emailed the University of Alberta about a spot he wanted to hit. After a couple of back and forths and some talk about a snowboard documentary, they gave him a four-hour window.
“Honestly, lots of times I’ll just treat spots like movie sets,” Craig explains. “I’ve worked on sets before. I’ve heard producers talking on the phone trying to get sets blocked in, and it’s the exact same thing. I’ll say stuff like, ‘We need this space for this amount of time. It’s a passion project, so we don’t have a ton of budget. Would you be comfortable letting us do this?’ Often people will be like, “Yeah, totally, for sure.” And, if they don’t, don’t give up. Try to see things from the security or building managers’ perspective. And try to get them to see it from your perspective. Be confident in what you are doing and talk to them like an adult. That can also go a long way.”
One of the last questions to answer for this piece is probably one of the most significant ones. What about liability? Who is liable if you get hurt while snowboarding on someone’s property? It turns out, businesses actually can be liable, and you can sue them if you get hurt on their property. This is called ‘Occupiers Liability,’ which is that people are responsible for keeping their premises safe. With occupier’s liability, you can see these bizarre cases where you have a home burglar who breaks and enters a private home, and is injured during the burglary. And then ends up suing the homeowner for having some obscure spike pit in their living room that caused an injury. This occupier’s liability can mean the same thing if you are snowboarding on a building. For example, let’s say the railing breaks while you’re back blunting it. If you can show that that railing was negligently constructed, you could potentially turn around and sue the owners. However, because of something called ‘The Doctrine of Clean Hands,’ which pressures the court not to order a remedy unless the plaintiff has come with clean hands—you probably wouldn’t have much of a case... but you could still try!
All and all, remember that a lot of this is legal information (not our opinion), and it doesn’t necessarily transfer over to the nuances of street snowboarders interacting with the public and the police in public places. Lots of stuff can happen out there. When you’re riding, be nice to the people you encounter, not only so you can stay on the board, but also because they are people.
STRATEGIES FOR NOT GETTIN’ KICKED OUT
Time of day | Go when there are less people around.
Number of People | Keep THE CREW SMALL so you attract less attention.
Do visi vests help? | Yes, they help you hide in plain sight. But you’ll get in the same trouble when caught.