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Animal law lawyers say dangerous dog legislation should address responsible ownership

|Written By Mallory Hendry

Despite an injunction to stop Montreal’s controversial pit bull ban being dismissed, opponents to breed-specific legislation aren’t giving up the fight.

Rebeka Breder, of Breder Law Co., says lawmakers need to ‘look at the person on the other end of the leash’ when developing dangerous dog legislation.
Rebeka Breder, animal law lawyer at Breder Law Co. in Vancouver, says the bylaw — parts of which came into effect on Oct. 3 — is problematic on many fronts and she is hopeful the final decision in the broader legal challenge by the Montreal SPCA is “a more balanced approach that will consider the true facts, true science and the research that’s been presented so far,” she says.

Camille Labchuk, animal rights lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice in Toronto, says the reality of the latest decision means pit bulls — and really all dogs in Montreal — are at risk from this “vague, discriminatory and ineffective bylaw.”
“What we know about keeping the public safe is strongly related to education and dog licensing,” she says. “This is a draconian measure that’s not going to work and is going to be expensive.”

Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin granted the temporary suspension stopping parts of the new law from going into effect on Oct. 5 in Lours v. Montreal (City of), but on Dec. 1 the injunction was dismissed by the Quebec Court of Appeal and the bylaw came into full effect.  

In a statement on its website, the Montreal SPCA said the appeal court is “holding the City of Montreal to the concessions it made during the appeal hearings.”

“Importantly, the City of Montreal cannot issue euthanasia orders based on breed or physical appearance, prohibit someone from reclaiming their lost dog based on breed or physical appearance, and must allow all dogs to continue to be adopted to families residing outside of Montreal,” the Montreal SPCA stated.

According to both lawyers, Ontario is a good example of how breed-specific bans are ineffective. Labchuk says research from 2012 shows there was a 40 per cent increase in dog bites reported in Ontario hospitals since the ban was enacted in 2005.

On Dec. 10, Toronto City Council unanimously passed amendments to the city’s bylaw regulating dangerous dogs. According to the amendments, which stem from a Sept. 7 report for action called Responsible Dog Ownership: Mitigating Risks of Dangerous Dogs, dogs classified as dangerous will need to be muzzled and microchipped, will not be allowed in a leash-free area and the owner must purchase a dangerous dog tag from the city and also post warning signs on their property.

Anyone found to be in violation of the bylaw, which comes into force on March 1, 2017, could face fines up to $100,000.

Labchuk calls the changes positive, saying many of the local animal activists in Toronto “pushed quite hard” to get these amendments through.

While Breder acknowledges these amendments are steps in the right direction, she says Toronto didn’t go far enough.

“Any city that really wants to go to the root of the issue should start with education or have education as part of their dangerous dog regulations,” she says.

Additional amendments to the Toronto bylaw, especially making it illegal to tether a dog outside for longer than three hours and banning choke and pronged collars, are excellent Labchuk and Breder agree.

Breder says there are a number of examples from cities in B.C. in the last decade that have reversed breed specific legislation including Vancouver in 2005, North Vancouver in 2009, Delta the year after that, Castlegar, Cumberland, Coquitlam and White Rock in 2011 and New Westminster in 2013.

“Forget activists or pit bull lovers,” Breder says. “Looking at objective data that’s out and talking to animal behaviourists, we shouldn’t be dealing with a band-aid solution that isn’t a solution at all. Look at the people on the other end of the leash.”
But the gold standard in North America is Calgary, Breder says. In 1985 the city had just over 2000 aggressive dog incidents. By 2014, that number went down to 641. The number of trials where the city tries to get a destruction order for an aggressive dog has “decreased astronomically” in that time as well, she adds.

“They moved away from an ‘animal control’ model to a ‘responsible pet owner’ model. They did this in early 2000s and what that means is they take public education very seriously. They start by educating kids in their formative years, in elementary school, on how to approach dogs, how not to approach them. Because dogs are such a part of society they worked it right into the curriculum,” Breder says.

 “Essentially what that legislation does in Calgary is it targets known risk factors and known behavioural problems so that they can nip it in the bud. It’s progressive,” Breder says. “We have to remember — in the 1960s it was the Shepherd, then the Doberman, now pit bulls and the latest trend is towards banning Cane Corsos and Bull Mastiffs. Where do we stop? We, as human beings, are supposed to be intelligent and learn from our mistakes — and it’s beyond me why we’re not.”


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