Breed-Specific Legislation: Ontario’s Pit Bull Ban

In August 2005, the Ontario government enacted the Dog Owner’s Liability Act [1] outlawing the possession, breeding, importing and transferring of pit bulls in Ontario. [2] The legislation replaced regulations that permitted pit bulls so long as they were muzzled and leashed in public, spayed /neutered, and euthanized where there was a possible threat or following an attack. [3] Ontario’s pit bull ban was one of many implemented in Canada, the United States and Australia.Though intending to reduce the frequency of dog attacks, breed-specific legislation is problematic. It incorrectly attributes violent behavioural traits to breed rather than  training and unfairly generalizes across the breed based on the actions of a few when all dogs are capable of biting.

Animal shelters and dog rescues in Ontario have faced a significant burden since the implementation of the legislation. Despite limited shelter resources some dogs have had to be flow to a new jurisdiction to avoid euthanasia at significant expense.[4]  Additionally, it is often difficult to determine whether a dog is in fact a member of the pit bull breed based simply on appearance and sometimes DNA testing is required to protect dogs that have been accused of being in breach of the Act. This diversion of shelter resources is at the expense of sheltering and placement operations.  

In contrast to the breed-specific legislation in Ontario, Calgary implemented a model in 2006 that uses dog education and stronger enforcement of bylaws to reduce the number of dog-related incidents and injuries. Rather than attributing these incidents to one specific breed of dog, the Calgary model asserts that misbehaviour on the part of any canine is the responsibility of the owner. The model demonstrates that by encouraging more responsible ownership the problem of dog attacks can be greatly reduced.[5] Elementary school children are educated in Calgary on interacting with dogs and dog behaviour. Research has shown that one hour of dog safety training in grades 2 and 3 can reduce attacks by 80%.[6] Notably, funding for Calgary’s program is fully recovered through licensing and fines, thus holding dog owners accountable for the actions of their dogs and promoting greater responsibility. Statistics show that Calgary has seen an astounding 70% decrease in total attacks while Ontario’s problem has shown no improvement since the implementation of the pit-bull ban.[7] Calgary’s education initiatives and stronger enforcement bylaws have been shown to be an exemplary model.

Certain Members of Provincial Parliament in Ontario including Cheri DiNovo, Kim Craitor and Randy Hillier have made attempts to repeal breed-specific legislation in Ontario. The first attempt, Bill 16, Public Safety Related to Dogs Statute Law Amendment Act, 2012 sought to repeal the provisions in the Dog Owner’s Liability Act [8] relating to the disposition of pit bulls and the controls on pit bulls within the province. A second attempt has been made by Randy Hillier, MPP in October 2013. Bill 112, An Act to Amend the Animal for Research Act and the Dog Owner’s Liability Act with respect to pit bulls, is nearly identical in effect to Bill 16 and has been carried in its first reading in the legislature. With public support, breed-specific legislation may be abolished in Ontario and superior solutions to dog biting can be implemented like in Calgary.

Written by Stephanie Lim 

This blog and the contents herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to seek legal counsel prior to acting on any matters discussed herein. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Citations:
[1] Dog Owners’ Liability Act, RSO 1990, c D.16.

[2] Dog Owners’ Liability Act, ibid, s (6).
[3] Dog Owners’ Liability Act, ibid, s (20)(2).
[4] “Pit Bull Bans and Other Issues Facing Ontario’s Shelters,” Retrieved March 2, 2013 online: http://thebark.com/content/pit-bull-bans-and-other-issues-facing-ontarios-shelters.
[5] “Defending Dog,” Retrieved March 3, 2014 online: http://www.defendingdog.com/id38.html.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Supra Note 4.

[8] Supra Note 1.