TORONTO — Health Canada has begun public consultations on whether ski and snowboard helmets should be required by law to meet new guidelines by the Canadian Standards Association.
The federal department announced the consultation process Tuesday after the CSA said it is introducing certification testing next month for manufacturers of snow sport helmets under its new standard.
However, CSA certification is voluntary — ski and snowboard helmet manufacturers do not have to submit their products for scrutiny in order to sell them in Canada.
That could change if Health Canada decides after consultation wraps up June 1 to move ahead with regulation of the industry. One possibility is that mandatory CSA certification could be required under the Hazardous Products Act.
“The department can put in place restrictions that allow only helmets meeting certain safety criteria, such as those in CSA standards, to be sold in Canada,” Health Canada spokeswoman Christelle Legault said Tuesday by email.
“Health Canada is considering whether the new standard should be referenced in Canada’s product safety legislation.”
But Legault said the federal government cannot pass a law requiring skiers and snowboarders to wear a helmet while hitting the slopes and pipes. Only provinces, territories and municipalities have the jurisdiction to enact such legislation.
Despite the lack of definitive action, CSA vice-president John Walter views Health Canada’s announcement as a positive sign.
“I think this is a very serious indication from Health Canada that they understand the value of this standard and they understand the need to consider the adoption into regulation,” he said.
“If that happens, you couldn’t sell any other (helmet) in Canada except one that met this standard.”
But Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who has tabled a private member’s bill calling for non-CSA approved snow sport helmets to be banned under the Hazardous Products Act, accused the Conservative government of dragging its feet on the issue.
“This government does consultation on everything,” she said from Ottawa. “It’s a simple stalling mechanism to go and do consultation.”
Fry has been urging the government to use a Governor-in-Council order to add recreational ski and snow sport helmets to the list of products already covered by the existing act, which includes hockey helmets and face masks, and lacrosse helmets.
“And with a simple stroke of the pen through government council, the cabinet could agree to add it to the list,” she said. “This is a simple preventive thing. It’s not going to cost the government a penny.”
CSA International will begin offering testing for certification of ski and snowboard helmets in Montreal next month, said Walter, noting that the new Canadian standard exceeds safety requirements under U.S. and European guidelines.
The non-profit organization’s announcement follows the death of actress Natasha Richardson, who sustained a brain injury in a fall at Quebec’s Mont-Tremblant ski resort. She was not wearing a helmet.
Helmets given the CSA stamp of approval would have to meet minimum levels of shock absorption, stability and strength, and provide protection to specified areas of the head most vulnerable to injury. The standard also applies to helmets for tobogganing and sledding.