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or Mr Tascona goes to Toronto

A PIECE of political theatre slowed down the Ontario Government’s plans to introduce draconian breed specific legislation to the province. Attorney General Michael Bryant moved the second reading of the Dog Owner’s Liability Act in a lengthy session in the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on November 4th, fully expecting that the Government would carry the day, due to the Liberal Party’s large majority.

However, Bryant’s plans were to be frustrated thanks to a barnstorming performance by Joseph Tascona, Leader of the Opposition, who filibustered the remainder of the session, talking out the Bill and delaying its enactment. In the process Tascona not only talked the session out, he methodically destroyed many of the Attorney General’s often spurious claims about ‘dangerous’ dogs and the efficiency of BSL.

Michael Bryant began, puffing his chest out and saying that he was to lead the debate, as Ontario would be the first Legislature in Canada to consider a province-wide debate.

He answered an interjection from an Opposition MPP who asked why the law was being enacted, saying: "… I'm here to make the case for it. I guess the short answer is that these are dangerous dogs. They hurt people. They hurt kids. They hurt families. They hurt other pets. They're dangerous. They cause damage."

Bryant then reeled off a list of dog attacks over the last two months in Ontario, all of which were ascribed to ‘pit bulls’.

He went on to quote from several newspapers that ‘applauded’ his stance and from senior police officers and civic officials who backed his proposed legislation, before saying how there was a ‘round table’ discussion in September with various bodies.

Bryant added, very pertinently for UK and US dog owners with regard to BSL: "We met with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the United Kingdom, the British equivalent to the OSPCA - met with their chief officer and inspector. We met with the Denver city solicitor who has carriage of this matter, at least during the fall. We met with them constantly over the telephone, with officials in Denver, who also have this ban in place. The state is trying to fight the city ban, and I'll let that be determined before the courts of that state."

Bryant concluded: "I think we're showing some leadership here. I think we are going to make Ontario a safer place. I think we are working with municipalities in such a way that we don't dump the responsibility of the ban upon them in a way that creates a patchwork across Ontario. I think -- I hope -- we have our eyes wide open in terms of any possible improvements to the bill. I certainly always appreciate any suggestions along those lines. I look forward to the debate, and I really believe, and I say to all members of this House, that if we pass this bill, we are going to see a safer Ontario."

After a few brief exchanges from other MPPs, Opposition leader Joseph Tascona rose and made it clear that his party shared the Attorney General's and the public's desire to stop attacks by dangerous dogs. Having been a victim of a dog attack himself, he express his sympathy to all victims of dog attacks. But then Mr Tascona went on the offensive, saying: "We have concerns about how the Attorney General went about developing this bill and the lack of details on enforcement. It has not been totally thought through, because there are fundamental questions that the Attorney General cannot answer which undermine the legitimacy of this bill.

"We agree that a new approach is needed to protect the public from dangerous dogs. But the fundamental question is, is this bill the right approach? It is our job, as the opposition party, to make sure the law is clear, effective and credible. This bill leaves more questions than it answers. We intend to pursue these questions to see that the law is ultimately solving problems and not creating them.

"I want to quote, ‘I can only say that my own personal political philosophy leads me to believe that in the very fast-moving times in which we live, the government policies and actions need to be to be continuously reviewed, revised and rethought. I have never believed that any one man or one group had a monopoly on ideas, and I firmly believe it is necessary to provide opportunity for new approaches to be made available.’ That quote is taken from John Robarts, the former Premier of Ontario, when he was leaving office as Premier."

Mr Tascona then addressed the crucial matter of identification of ‘pit bulls’ saying that it is going to pose a very fundamental problem.

Tascona continued demolishing Bryant’s plans, drawing on correspondence from the Canadian Staffordshire Bull terrier Club and then citing the experience of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act in the UK.

Damningly, he continued, citing Bryant’s refusal to acknowledge information and advice which ran contrary to his plans for BSL.

The debate ended, the session having run out of time and a frustrated Attorney General left the chamber, knowing that not only would he have to try to present his Bill for a second reading again, but that he was likely to be facing calls for public hearings to justify his proposals.

The battle against BSL in Ontario is far from over, but campaigners have taken new heart now that the true facts about BSL have been raised in the Legislature.

Added to this, a huge public demonstration is planned in the province on Sunday, November 28th, at which many experts on BSL will be speaking. It could well be that fact will prove stronger than fiction.

RSPCA denies backing BSL

Responding to a question from OUR DOGS as to whether the RSPCA had advised Ontario’s Attorney General Michael Bryant in the drafting of BSL, Katy Geary of the RSPCA Press Office denied this to be the case. Ms Geary told OUR DOGS:

"Our Chief Officer of Inspectorate, Andy Foxcroft meets Michael Bryant a number of times each year - the meeting where this was discussed wasn't specifically called to deal with this matter and, as far as I'm aware the decision to introduce the legislation seemed to have already been made.

"However Andy did voice concerns and said that we were worried about going down such a course [of BSL] and that it would be better to act on the 'deed not breed'."