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Legislated out of existence.

Imagine that you belonged to a particularly maligned group of humanity. Imagine police named you and your group as the most aggressive, provocative, and violent in society. This concern, in turn, led to public pressure to control you and your brood of perceived thugs. Imagine the government proceeded to legislate you out of existence.

You are muzzled in public and kept on a short leash. You are to be sterilized. You and your kind must leave the land.

Some of your brood renounce their association with you, arguing they do not pose a threat to public safety. Unfortunately for them, the law applies to them as long as they look like you. It's up to them to prove they're different.

You are the new Ontario outlaw: a pit bull terrier. Not being human, you have no rights independent of your interaction with humans. Your human owner, for the first time in Ontario, may face jail time if he or she breaks the law that bans you.

Ontario's Dog Owners' Liability Act has been around for a long time. Until now, the Act mainly made it easier for victims of dog bites to sue the dog's owner and get compensation for their injuries. Recent amendments, however, implement the first province-wide "breed-specific" ban in Canada. The amendments aim to gradually phase out ownership of pit bull dogs, or any dog that looks like them.

Is the ban justified? During public hearings before the ban became law, police testified that pit bulls have become the preferred dog for drug dealers and other violent criminals. According to police, people engaged in violent crime breed pit bulls to threaten, intimidate, and attack people who get in their way. The Toronto Chief of Police noted that many officers in Canada's largest city have been wounded, or forced to use violence themselves, when they find pit bulls at the scenes of their investigations.

Critics of the Act, including many kennel clubs and breeder organizations, argue that pit bulls are no more dangerous than some other breeds of dog, such as Rottweilers. They oppose any breed-specific ban, on the ground that any breed can be brought up to behave safely or dangerously.

Ontario's Attorney General (AG), on the other hand, cited a rising incidence of major injuries from pit bull attacks as evidence that these dogs display an intrinsically violent temper, no matter how well they have been raised or treated by their owners. He referred to bans in some cities that appear to have reduced the rate of injury. He stated that a province-wide ban was necessary to effectively enforce pit bull behaviour beyond city limits.

Pit bull ownership is increasing, the AG said. Unfortunately, many pit bull owners later give up the dog when they discover they cannot control its violent behaviour. Without the Act, the AG suggested, in 10 years, Ontario would have a situation where "... our humane societies and dog pounds are bursting at the seams with unadoptable pit bulls that are living out their lives in the humane society or dog pound and are being put down."

Some dog owners recognize the need for restrictions on pit bulls. Nevertheless, they have expressed concern over the expansive definition in the Act of what constitutes a pit bull. The AG says the definition has worked for 15 years in Winnipeg, which implemented a similar ban.

In Ontario, the most controversial part of the definition deems to be a pit bull any "dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar" to certain breeds of pit bulls and terriers.

Even more troubling to some is the reversal of the normal burden of proof on this issue. In court proceedings against owners of dogs purported to be pit bulls, "the onus of proving that the dog is not a pit bull lies on the owner of the dog."

Some dog owners who don't consider their dog a pit bull find the Act's definition so vague that they fear being accused of violating the Act. Violations of the Act expose a dog owner to fines or jail. Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby has asked the Ontario court to declare the definition unconstitutional for vagueness. Although dogs don't enjoy constitutional rights, their owners do. Charter rights inform any legislation that exposes people to the risk of imprisonment.

Some associations of dog owners think that the real problem lies with owners who dangerously neglect their dog or train it to be violent. Unlike the police, these associations believe that dangerous owners do not restrict themselves to owning just one breed. Banning all potentially dangerous dogs would be impractical, they suggest. Dangerous or criminal owners, if they even bother to register their pit bull, will just move on to other breeds and raise them to carry out the same intimidation and attacks.

Instead, several breeders supported stronger enforcement of the old Act's provisions. Many victims of dog bites stated that bylaw officers barely bothered to investigate initial reports of dangerous dog behaviour. Municipalities, in turn, often lack the financial resources to effectively enforce bylaws, especially in Ontario, where they have assumed responsibility for services downloaded in recent years by the Province.

The new Act bans the breeding of new pit bulls and requires owners to sterilize existing ones. Pit bull owners must muzzle their dogs and keep them on a short leash at all times in public. Owners who leave their pit bull in public without following these requirements are deemed to have violated the interests of "public safety." Dogs may be apprehended from their owner's home if their owner has violated the interests of public safety. Seized dogs are delivered to the pound.

If a pit bull owner is charged and found to have not muzzled the pit bull or kept it on the proper leash in public, the new Act directs the court to order destruction of the pit bull. For all other dogs, destruction represents an extreme penalty, to be justified only by behaviour that poses a menace to safety and where the court is satisfied that protection of the public requires it. Even then, owners of dangerous dogs that are not pit bulls can ask for less severe sanctions, such as an order confining the dog to their own property or the posting of warning signs.

Supporters of the new Act argue that pit bulls are so dangerous they should not be allowed to bite or attack before sanctions are imposed. This reasoning may underlie the muzzle requirement. However, if you believe that other breeds can be equally dangerous, the new Act may not offer enough protection.

Owners of other dogs are only subject to the court's control if their dog bites, attacks, or "behaves in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons" or pets, or if the owner does not exercise "reasonable precautions" to prevent this behaviour. In other words, other dogs are controlled for their past behaviour, not their breed, or the fact that they are not muzzled.

When the court makes an order to control the behaviour of a dog that is found not to be a pit bull, it may consider the dog's past behaviour, the seriousness of the injuries it caused, unusual contributing circumstances, the unlikelihood of a repeat attack, the dog's physical power, and precautions taken by the owner. None of these factors applies to proceedings involving pit bulls.

So does the new Act protect Ontarians from an identified danger, or does it represent too quick a fix to voter concern over recent reports of pit bull attacks? Will the ban on pit bulls be followed with bans on other dangerous breeds, or will a court strike down the definition of pit bull for its vagueness, as an unconstitutional limit on the liberty of owners, who risk imprisonment if they violate the Act? Your own answer may depend on whether you believe that animals should be controlled by breed instead of behaviour.

Breed Specific Legislation: A National Overview by Tim Battle

Nearly a dozen jurisdictions in Canada have implemented, or are considering implementing, breed bans or restrictions. Below are some examples of these bylaws and bills:

British Columbia:

* Coquitlam: designates all pit bulls and bull terriers as vicious animals

* Prince George: as of September 19, 2005, pit bulls are designated as dangerous and need to be muzzled in public and kept in enclosures while at home.


* Edmonton: has restrictions on pit bulls and other dogs deemed dangerous. Bylaws specifically exclude Staffordshire Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers registered with the Canadian Kennel Club.


* Winnipeg: became the first city in Canada to ban pit bulls in 1990.

* Macdonald: has banned pit bulls


* Provincial government recently introduced the Dog Owners' Liability Act banning the ownership of pit bulls across the province. Transition period will allow current owners to keep their dogs, but with strict restrictions that will include spaying and neutering all existing dogs; muzzling all pit bulls while off their owners' property; increased penalties for pit bull owners who do not respect the restrictions.

* Kitchener-Waterloo: banned pit bulls in 1997. The ban specifically excludes Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers registered with the Canadian Kennel Club or the American Kennel Club.

* Lakeshore: has banned "any dog of the Presa Canario, Pit Bull, Staffordshire, Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull, or American Staffordshire Terrier" or any crossbreed.

* Windsor: has recently restricted Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and American Pit Bulls, and all mixes of these dogs.


* Sherbrooke: has banned pit bulls, and has controls on Rottweilers and Mastiffs.

* Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu: has banned pit bulls

* Lachine: has banned pit bulls

* Kirkland: has banned pit bulls

* Outremont: has banned pit bulls

* Sainte-Genevieve: has banned pit bulls

New Brunswick:

* Province is reviewing province-wide restrictions on all Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers and Akitas.

Nova Scotia:

* Clark's Harbour: banned pit bulls in May 1998 even though there were no pit bulls in the community.

* Guysborough: banned pit bulls and Rottweilers

In addition, numerous cities across the country have legislation restricting vicious or dangerous dogs--often defined as dogs that have attacked or acted aggressively toward another person or animal, Updated from "Breed Specific Legislation: A National Overview" by Tanya O'Callaghan, published in the Fall 2004 issue of "Animal Welfare in Focus" a publication of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

Where they stand National organizations state their positions on Breed Specific Legislation by Tim Battle

Canadian Kennel Club (CKC)

"The CKC supports dangerous and/or vicious dog legislation which would serve to protect the public from dangerous dogs but the banning of specific breeds is not considered to be an effective solution. Like many interested parties we believe that public education, stronger enforcement of existing by-laws, and stiffer penalties for owners is more effective than breed specific legislation."

National Companion Animal Coalition (NCAC)

The NCAC is comprised of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Canadian Kennel Club and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada.

"The National Companion Animal Coalition does not support breed-specific bans as an effective tool to protect the public from vicious or dangerous dogs."

Canada Safety Council

"Statistics show that some breeds are more likely to be involved in vicious attacks ... Authorities should beware that breed bans may provoke people who want aggressive dogs to seek out other breeds to breed or train them to become vicious ... Breed bans should not be used as a quick fix. The solution lies in a combination of effective animal control measures, reputable breeders, responsible owners, public education, backed up with enforcement and based on reliable data."

Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers (CAPPDT)

"The CAPPDT urges any provincial or municipal government considering breed-specific legislation to seek solutions and enact legislation that truly address the safety issues posed by dog attacks--dangerous dog laws related to incidents rather than breeds, responsible dog ownership requirements or awareness campaigns, and laws that address human violent offenders and the social issues that lie at the root of using dogs for violence."

Mark Seebaran is a lawyer with the firm of Lavery, de Billy, LLP in Ottawa, Ontario.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT on the law and animals
Author:Seebaran, Mark
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Previous Article:Exotic pets and animal trade: do you have a permit for that grizzled tree kangaroo?
Next Article:Animal cruelty, domestic violence and child abuse: the many victims of violence.

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