I originally wrote this article on the two year anniversary of the Ontario legislation, so that’s about a year and a half ago. Considering our fundraising efforts to get to the Supreme Court of Canada, I think it’s appropriate to re-use it now to try to give you some idea of what life is like for many dog owners in Ontario.
Originally posted August 30, 2007.
State of the Province
August 29, 2007 was the two-year anniversary of Ontario’s Bill 132 (usually known as the “pit bull” ban).
What has happened in Ontario during those two years?
Two people in this province (including a one and a half year old child) have been killed by dogs, none by “pit bull” type dogs.
Almost without exception, the mainstream media organizations, when notified of serious attacks on people and on animals by other types of dogs, have responded with a mind-boggling lack of interest.
Not a “pit bull”? Not interested. Thank you for your call.
Michael Bryant, the Attorney General of Ontario and the political architect of this law, has been on television telling people that attacks by pit bulls have been reduced and that Ontarians are now safer than ever before. Funny that the most expert, most knowledgeable, and most connected people in the province can’t find any information to prove the truth of that statement. Even a brief investigation into municipal bite statistics reveals that, in most cases, the specific data required to make that type of statement doesn’t exist or is incomplete or inaccurate.
In this province, over the past two years, authorities have targeted, threatened, and confiscated a staggering number of dogs of many breeds and types. Here is just a short list:
Seven-week-old mixed-breed puppies
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Collie/Jack Russell mix
Dogue de Bordeaux
Jack Russell Terrier cross
A record number of dogs of all shapes and sizes have been confiscated and killed in this province over the past two years, all accused of being “pit bulls”. An unknown, unidentifiable, non-existent “breed” has somehow managed to be regularly and frequently identified by unqualified, untrained personnel and, because of the way the law is written, once that unqualified, often biased, person has identified your dog as a “pit bull”, the chance of you ever seeing your dog again is pretty well nil.
Many of these confiscations have occurred without proof of wrongdoing, without warrants, through the use of threats and intimidation. Owners have been threatened with arrest, with imprisonment, with inappropriate use-of-force, and with the removal of other pets in the house if they don’t surrender the particular dogs in question. Police officers have been encouraged to shoot loose-running dogs on sight, regardless of breed (although short, stocky dogs are definitely more at risk) and regardless of the actions or temperaments of the dogs.
In this province, it’s starting to feel like dogs of any breed have become the new targets for police officers’ shooting practice. Of course that’s an exaggeration, but there is definitely a trend towards a “shoot first, offer cookie later” approach.
Ontario TV shows, radio shows, and newspaper articles have categorized ALL “pit bull” owners in the province as moronic, dangerous, and irresponsible, as gangsters, criminals, and macho thugs. Many have added owners of other breeds to this list as well.
These uninformed and hate-filled opinions have created a “climate of fear”, not just toward the dogs, but also toward their owners. They have legitimized and, in some cases, encouraged vigilantism against an identifiable group of law-abiding, responsible citizens.
Dog owners have been assaulted, threatened, spat upon, had bottles thrown at them. Their dogs have been kicked, burned with cigarettes, threatened with death, doused with scalding hot coffee.
Dog owners are being forced, through various cities’ extreme and draconian restrictions, to choose between their residence and their pet. Those who can’t leave because of family, mortgages, or jobs are forced to give up their dogs. Dogs are being dropped off, often abandoned, at local shelters in record numbers. The “humane” solution that Michael Bryant proposed is causing the deaths of hundreds of dogs each and every day.
People have lost their houses, their jobs, their friends, and even their families because of the shape of their dog’s head. Neighbourhood children are no longer allowed to play with the dog owners’ children. Neighbours refuse to even say hello and, in many cases, call the police or animal control over minor or even untrue complaints.
The type of dog a person owns is now becoming an issue in child custody battles.
People are being evicted from rental housing, are unable to obtain rental housing, cannot buy condominiums, and cannot get tenant’s or homeowner’s liability insurance. Falsified complaints of bites, attempted bites, and menacing behaviour are made by groups of tenants who band together to rid their building of dogs that they think might be “pit bulls”.
Many dog owners have resorted to walking their dogs in remote areas or late at night to avoid becoming targets. Many more simply use their backyards to exercise their dogs. These attempts to keep themselves and their dogs safe often result in behavioural problems that did not exist previously, due to lack of socialization, training, and simple daily exposure to people, animals, places, and situations.
It is now illegal for hundreds of thousands of Canadian dog owners to vacation with their dogs in Ontario or even to pass through the province when travelling from one part of the country to another. Visitors from the United States and other countries are now advised on travel websites to avoid Ontario if they own a dog, regardless of breed, due to the serious misidentification problems and the reverse-onus provisions of the law (i.e., you have to PROVE the breed of your dog, a scientific impossibility).
Tourism has suffered. Dog shows, flyball and agility competitions, camping trips, and family visits have been cancelled or seriously impacted because of this legislation.
Even municipalities that disagree with this type of breed-specific legislation are now burdened with the additional (and not insignificant) costs of enforcing an unenforceable law. Many of them have seen an increase in the number of calls from uninformed, paranoid residents about neighbouring “pit bulls” with each call requiring an officer to drive out, investigate, identify (or not), report, follow up, and possibly charge and prosecute.
Those municipalities with overzealous, biased animal control personnel now find themselves mired in unparalleled numbers of court cases. All of this is at the expense of taxpayers. Thanks to the parroting of government press releases by the mainstream media and the blind use of sound bites from government press conferences, many members of the public actually think that this McGuinty Liberal government is protecting them and their children.
In Ontario, there are at least 2.3 million dogs, probably more. There are, at last count, about 4.5 million families. So, on average, there is one dog for every two families in the province. Admittedly, some people have more than one dog, but the number of dog owners in Ontario is still hugely significant.
Dog owners are one of the largest demographics in the province. And the vast majority of dog owners do NOT agree with this law.
They do not agree with killing unoffending, well-behaved dogs simply because of the way they look. They do not agree with the confiscation and destruction of newborn puppies. They do not agree with the legislated persecution of law-abiding, responsible citizens who have done nothing except pick the wrong dog to love.
Many, many voters, both dog owners and people without dogs in their families, have recognized this as a purely political move, designed to give the uninformed public the impression of action and protection. With a little common sense and a basic understanding of human rights, they see it as a way for this government to circumvent the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by allowing unreasonable search and seizure, by discriminating against a specific, identifiable group of citizens, and by threatening or actually imposing upon those citizens hefty fines, confiscation of property, and imprisonment because of a vague definition that is arbitrarily enforced.
In a number of court cases in Ontario, the provincial Attorney General’s office has intervened in municipal prosecutions of dog owners to make sure they secure convictions in as many “pit bull” cases as possible. Dog owners, unaware of the law, perhaps unable to afford lawyers, unsure as to how to proceed, find themselves in court against the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, against the same government lawyers that defended the government against a constitutional challenge from one of the best civil rights lawyers in the country. What chance can these dog owners possibly have?
This Ontario Liberal government has shown us time and time again that they are more than willing to sacrifice whomever and whatever to appear to increase public safety, without ever bothering to check the facts or listen to the experts.
If this government had been even remotely concerned about public safety, instead of getting in the right sound bite for the evening news, they would have taken the advice of the opposing parties and, even more so, the advice of the experts who testified in front of them and the experts who produced recommendations from two coroners’ inquests.
Every single credible expert and animal-related organization, including experts in legislation, dog behaviour, and bite prevention, told the government not to do this. Michael Bryant publicly stated that he would listen to the experts, but when every single expert told him it was a bad idea, not only did the Liberals press ahead with the law, but they actually made amendments to it to make it worse than it was originally, then they forced a “whipped vote” in the legislature, after Dalton McGuinty publicly stated that he would allow his members to vote their conscience in every matter not related to the budget.
In early 2005, prior to the four latest deaths by dogs in Canada (none by “pit bulls”), the Ontario Liberals were asked repeatedly to fund a provincial dog bite prevention and education program.
They were asked to implement a provincial responsible dog ownership program.
They were asked to create a provincial dog bite registry.
They were asked to provide municipalities with appropriate funding to ensure effective animal bylaw enforcement.
All of these requests were based on recommendations from the coroner’s inquest into the death of eight-year-old Courtney Trempe in 1998. All of these recommendations came from experts in dog breeding, behaviour, and bite prevention.
Instead, the government decided to ban a vague, non-existent shape of dog that barely registers in most dog bite statistics, simply to score political points. Their changes to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act had nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with politics.
The way the law is written right now, it is entirely possible and conceivable for the following things to happen:
a) Police can enter my home, seize my dog, kill it, and put me in jail because of the shape of my dog’s head or because of the particular type of dog that I choose to live with. This is not about “pit bulls”. We have documented many instances where dogs of other breeds have been identified as pit bulls and have been confiscated or the owners have been put through hell trying to save their dogs. There are at least 30 different purebred breeds of dogs that “look like” the dogs that the Liberals are supposedly targeting.
b) Police can enter my home, seize my dog, kill it, and put me in jail if someone feels threatened by my dog or even if they feel that their own animal is threatened by my dog, even if my dog is on my own property. A neighbour who doesn’t like me can easily cause my dog to be confiscated. This last section has nothing to do with breed. Every dog owner in this province is affected by this portion of the law.
This law has been used to force therapy dogs and service dogs to be muzzled. It has been used to identify seven-week-old puppies as being a “menace to public safety”. Since this law has been enacted, three children and one adult have died in Canada, two in Ontario, all killed by dogs that were not “pit bulls”. These past two years have been record years for dogs killing people and not once was a “pit bull” involved. How is public safety being enhanced?
So what is the solution?
Since we have made all possible attempts to negotiate and communicate with the current Liberal government and since we have been rebuffed at every turn, we are left with only two things to do:
1. Take them to court.
2. Vote them out of office.
We have taken them to court. The judge found that various portions of the law violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but left the rest of the law as is.
In order to continue this fight, the Dog Legislation Council of Canada needs funds. Your rights as a dog owner are at risk, regardless of the type of dog you own. The DLCC is fighting for those rights. If you don’t want to see the erosion and removal of the rights of all dog owners in this province (including yourself), then you need to help. Don’t just say thanks. Don’t just say to yourself, “what a great job they’re doing” or “at least somebody’s fighting this stupid law”. Put some money toward this fight. Ten dollars, a hundred dollars, or a thousand. Do something.
Visit http://www.dlcc.ca/ for more details.