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Yves Boisvert

Yves Boisvert

Yves Boisvert

Why Montreal’s ban on pit bulls is a reasonable restraint Add to ...

Yves Boisvert is a Columnist with La Presse

As witnessed in countless online videos, a properly trained grizzly bear can be a lovely pet, if you can afford the food. So why, then, do cities impose total bans on grizzly bears, all bears in fact, when the problem is really the owner, not the animal? Isn’t that legal overreaching?

The same goes for dogs, if you believe animal-rights activists who obtained a court order to suspend Montreal’s new ban on pit bulls. Judging by the number of news reports and commentaries, pit bulls are the single most important social problem in the province this year.

The debate has been raging since La Presse ran a series in May about serious dog bites in Montreal. In the summer of 2015 alone, 20 children were disfigured by dog attacks; most of the animals involved were pit bulls.

Then, in June, Christiane Vadnais was mauled to death by a neighbour’s dog. The 55-year-old was sitting by the pool in her backyard when the dog crawled through a fence and, for no apparent reason, viciously attacked her. Police officers killed the dog, which they identified as a pit bull. It was later reported that the animal was registered as a “boxer” but it is not clear if this was to mislead authorities.

The situation seemed out of control and politicians were called upon to do something. As usual in Quebec, the provincial government set up a committee to look into the matter, but Montreal’s fiery Mayor Denis Coderre decided he would act quickly for public-safety purposes. If a pit bull ban is good for Ontario, it should be good for Montreal, too.

Public opinion is largely on his side, as are doctors who have attended to injured children. But dog experts argue that the science is inconclusive about how dangerous pit bulls are, and advise education for dog owners.

Then lawyers jumped in. Anne-France Goldwater, a high-profile divorce lawyer and Quebec television personality, likened a pit-bull ban to Nazi rules. Trying to distinguish between dogs is nothing less then “racism” akin to techniques to identify Jews by measuring their ears and noses in 1930s Germany, she said in a Radio-Canada interview.

Julius Grey, a lawyer involved in many freedom of speech and minorities rights cases, is also denouncing the bylaw as “irrational.” It would kill dogs who did nothing wrong, he argued.

The Montreal bylaw mimics the laws in Ontario and many places across North America; it bans acquisition of any new American pit-bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, or any dogs mixed with those breeds or “that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar” to them.

The wording may be somewhat vague, but it was deemed constitutional by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2008. Even though the level of danger posed and the identification of dog breeds can be a matter of debate between experts, the ban is based on serious public-security concerns and therefore valid. As in Ontario, the Montreal bylaw guarantees the rights of current pit bull owners, provided they get a licence and have their animal sterilized.

Still, Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin suspended full application of the bylaw, pending a hearing on the merits of the case. On its face, the bylaw is too vague in referring to pit-bull type dogs, he said, and covers a series of non-dangerous dogs. The city should go back to the drawing board, he said, and replace a legal text written too quickly.

The judge also noted of a recent amendment to the Quebec Civil Code that gives animals a new legal status. They are no longer “things,” but are “sentient beings with biological needs.”

The city is appealing the suspension of its pit-bull ban. Of course, it is difficult to trace the ancestry of every dog. But it’s clear that certain kinds of dogs have no place in an urban environment, just as some weapons are restricted or prohibited. For everyone’s safety, we should allow dog profiling.

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