Thomas Walkom was outspoken against the Ontario ban in 2004 and 2005 and was one of the voices of reason in the media at the time. It’s nice to see he’s still speaking out. Thanks, Thomas.
Walkom: Why Ontario’s pit-bull ban should end
Published On Wed Feb 29 2012
By Thomas Walkom
Toronto Star National Affairs Columnist
Thanks to the efforts of MPPs from all three parties, Ontarians are being given a chance — a chance — to see a patently bad law buried.
That law is the province-wide ban on pit bulls, a statute enacted seven years ago on the basis of much demagoguery and virtually no evidence.
The ban’s origins were fear and opportunism. The fear — particularly in Toronto — stemmed from a particularly vicious pit-bull attack that left a 25-year-old man with extensive injuries.
The opportunism was that of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, which sensed in the public outrage surrounding this attack a chance to polish its fading image.
At the time, debate over the ban was hot and furious. Honest people took different sides.
Many parents welcomed any move that might keep young children safe.
Conversely, many dog lovers were outraged by the ban’s arbitrary nature.
But what made the government’s handling of this bill unforgivable was its dishonesty.
It cited as evidence for its move a U.S. study claiming that pit bulls, while representing only 1 per cent of the dog population, were responsible for between 48 and 56 per cent of all dog bites.
Under scrutiny, however, that claim collapsed. The statistics, a government spokesman acknowledged, came from an obscure Washington state pet owners’ magazine that had looked at just 59 cases.
Otherwise, the government had nothing. Serious organizations that had investigated dog bites — including the Canada Safety Council, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control — concluded that so called breed bans didn’t work.
The reason? No one dog breed is particularly vicious. What counts, expert after expert told the government, is how dogs are trained.
Moreover, the government was told, the dog-bite threat itself is overstated. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that far more children are injured playing baseball.
Riding on a wave of fear, however, the government persevered. It eventually passed a law requiring dogs from four named breeds born after Nov. 26, 2005 — as well as any dog that even resembles a pit bull born after this date — to be either killed or (when municipal bylaws permit) removed from the province.
Pit bulls born before that date cannot be allowed out of enclosed areas without leash and muzzle.
Except for one maverick Tory who sided with the government, the vote was held along strict party lines.
Which is what makes last week’s private member’s bill so encouraging. Co-sponsored by leftish New Democrat Cheri DeNovo, avowedly right-of-centre Tory Randy Hillier and Niagara Falls Liberal Kim Craitor, the bill to repeal Ontario’s pit-bull ban passed its second reading stage with support from all three parties.
Those who want to end the ban made the usual points. The law is vague in determining what constitutes a pit bull. More to the point it is unfair, in that it penalizes breed rather than behaviour.
Pointing to a 2010 study by the Toronto Humane Society, Hillier argued that the ban hasn’t affected the number of dog-bite incidents in Ontario — which is to say, it hasn’t worked.
In normal times, private members’ bills rarely manage to reach the third reading stage required to make them law. According to published reports, even this bill commanded the support of only three Liberals, including Toronto MPP Mike Colle.
Still, we can hope. The ban is particularly unpopular in rural areas, where the Liberals need seats if they are to regain a majority. Perhaps the government that chose to pass this travesty seven years ago will see reason.