THE CITY of London, Ontario, not content with the plans of Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant to introduce Breed Specific Legislation throughout the province plans to enact its own brand of BSL, even more closely modelled on the UK’s discredited 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.
Any dog in the city that is perceived as ‘threatening’ could be ordered to be muzzled, in a grim echo of the DDA’s Section 3, where any breed of dog can be seized on the mere ‘apprehension’ caused to a individual.
London dogs will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent under proposed ‘dangerous dog’ controls. Jay Stanford, city manager of environmental programs, acknowledged the proposed bylaws are controversial.
"Yes, that's the way it would work. But from a safety perspective, we believe that's the best way," Stanford said following a meeting on the issue last week before city council's Environment and Transportation Committee.
Dogs deemed ‘potentially dangerous’ – even if they haven't bitten anyone – could be ordered muzzled, neutered or impounded. Their owners could need a dangerous dog licence at a higher cost. If the owner refuses, the dog could be destroyed.
The new measures were expected to draw a crowd this week at a public meeting.
"It's a very passionate issue and we expect many people to be there," said committee chairperson Councillor Roger Caranci, with masterful understatement.
There are two proposed city bylaw affecting dogs:
* One would ban four dog breeds in the city: ‘Pit bulls’, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and Akitas. Dogs of those breeds already living in London would be allowed to remain as long as their owners applied for an extension within 90 days. Otherwise the dogs would have to be moved outside the city or euthanased.
* The other bylaw would slap in place the stringent new controls. Unlike the perfectly adequate existing bylaw that calls for muzzling only if a dog has bitten someone, the new bylaw would require muzzling if a dog runs at someone or is ‘perceived’ as menacing. These dogs could also be put down if the owner refuses to muzzle them.
But as with the UK, there is a strong risk of abuse if false complaints being made about dog behaviour, possibly as a result of long-standing feuds or disagreements between individuals or simply as a result of dog haters targeting any dog.
"False reports could occur, yes," said Stanford, when asked if habitual barking could prompt a false report. "We will need more animal patrol officers and there will be avenue for appeal," he said. "But this is about public safety."
Controller Gord Hume questioned whether London should pursue bylaws when the province is in the middle of its own crackdown on pit bulls. However, Caranci insisted that London's proposal goes beyond pit bulls.
"This bylaw deals with many issues - muzzling, leashing, licensing and more stringent penalties. Our legal staff told us we can proceed as long as this bylaw doesn't conflict in any way with what the province brings down," he said.
However, Carnaci’s plans may come to nothing if the plans for province-wide BSL are defeated, either in the Ontario Legislature or by a legal challenge ruling them to be unconstitutional. In the final analysis, the plans to introduce BSL and a virtual ‘sus’ law against dogs in the city of London is yet another attempt by a local politician to be seen to ‘do something’ and make a small problem far worse than it is.