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Ontario Dog Law challenge planned

THE BREED Specific Laws passed last month by the Ontario Liberal Government are due to come into effect on August 29th 2005 – and already anti-BSL campaigners are gearing up for a legal challenge to be filed at the same time. Under Canadian law, a law can only be challenged once it is in force – and campaigners are hoping to strike quickly before innocent dogs are seized as illegal pit bull ‘types’.

As reported previously, the Ontario Liberal administration passed Bill 132, drawn up by Attorney General Michael Bryant amending the Dog Owners Liability Act on March 1, 2005 in an attempt to legislate dangerous dogs. The legislation's most important provision is its ban on owning, selling, gifting or importing a "pit bull". The legislation states that, except as permitted by the Regulations, no one shall import a "pit bull" into Ontario. The definition of a "pit bull" includes (a) a "pit bull terrier" (undefined), (b) a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, (c) an American Staffordshire Terrier, (d) an American Pit Bull Terrier, and (e) the catchall of "any dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those dogs".

The catchall puts many large and medium-sized shorthaired dogs at risk. The law requires a mandatory death sentence for any "pit bull" for any infringement. If a dog is identified as a "pit bull" and the owner has contravened any part of the legislation or the Regulations under the legislation, the burden of proof is reversed – just as with the UK’s discredited Dangerous Dogs Act upon which the Ontario legislation is based - and the owner must prove that the dog is not a targeted breed in order to avoid the dog's death. The legislation does not specify how the owner of a mixed-breed or unregistered dog might provide this proof.

SHOW DOGS AT RISK

Overseas dog exhibitors wishing to attend Canadian dog shows face a minefield of legality when it comes to Ontario – and their dogs are potentially at risk. There are limited and very specific exemptions concerning ‘import’ of a "pit bull" for an approved dog show in the Regulations to the legislation. An "approved dog show" is defined as a conformation show, agility trial, obedience trial, tracking test or earth dog test sanctioned, in writing, by one of the Canadian Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club or the American Dog Breeders Association.

A pit bull being temporarily imported into Ontario is exempt from the ownership and importation restrictions of the Act if the following requirements are met:

l the dog is registered with at least one of the Canadian Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club or the American Dog Breeders Association (the UK Kennel Club and other European registries are not mentioned);

l and the owner has given written notice to one of the registries that the owner intends to have the dog participate in approved dog shows; and

l the dog is in Ontario ONLY during a 14-day period that includes an approved dog show in which the dog is participating.

It is the owner's responsibility to prove that the dog is not being imported into Ontario in contravention of the legislation and the Regulations.

Regulation 5(2)4. states that the prohibition on importing a pit bull does not apply if the dog is brought into Ontario within the 14-day period preceding an approved dog show in Ontario and the dog is registered as a participant in that show. This may mean that the owner and dog are not subject to the prohibition on import only until the dog show ends, and that the dog must be removed from Ontario forthwith after the dog show ends. It is not clear whether the exemption from the prohibition on import extends for the period of time it takes an owner and dog to leave Ontario. Owners of "pit bulls" who intend to show their dogs in Ontario and who do not reside in Ontario should demand clarification of this Regulation from the Ontario Attorney General's Office.

A "pit bull" is exempt from the public muzzle and leash requirements while attending an approved dog show and while remaining on the dog show site. The "pit bull" must be muzzled and leashed when it is off the dog show site. When the "pit bull" is in public, muzzled and on leash, the muzzle must cover the mouth of the dog and be strong enough and well-fitted enough to prevent the dog from biting without interfering with the breathing, panting or vision of the pit bull or with the dog's ability to drink. The leash must be attached to a collar or harness on the dog, and the leash and collar or harness must be strong enough so that the dog cannot break either of them. The leash must be no longer than 1.8 metres (6 feet). The dog does not have to be sterilized.

If an Ontario municipality has "pit bull" by-laws that are more restrictive than the Ontario provincial legislation, the more restrictive law respecting "pit bulls" must be obeyed. A municipality's by-law may now be in force. As an example, the City of Windsor in Ontario has a "pit bull ban" which has been in effect since September 2004. If a "pit bull" (defined very much as in the provincial legislation) was not licensed by the City of Windsor by September 30, 2004 it is a prohibited dog and can be seized and destroyed. This includes visitors' dogs. Many other municipalities have or are looking at implementing restrictions or breed bans.

At present, no other Canadian province has a province-wide law banning or restricting any breeds.

BEHAVIOUR

The behaviour of dogs other than "pit bulls" is also governed by the Ontario legislation. A complaint may be lodged by a person alleging that the dog has bitten or attacked a person or domestic animal, or that the dog has behaved in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals, or that the owner did not exercise reasonable precautions to prevent the dog from biting or attacking a person or domestic animal or behaving in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals. On conviction, the owner may be subject to a fine, a jail term or both; a court order respecting the dog may be imposed (i.e. spay/neuter, muzzling); and, the dog may be destroyed or sold to research. The deliberate failure to define "menace" may cause many neighbour-about-neighbour complaints and the deaths of many otherwise unoffending dogs.

Further, the Ontario legislation permits a "peace officer" (defined as a police officer, a municipal by-law enforcement officer, an inspector or agent under the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and a public officer designated as a peace officer for the purposes of the legislation) to enter a premises (home or business) to search and seize a dog without a warrant where the peace officer considers there are exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances include but are not limited to circumstances in which the peace officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that entry into any building, receptacle or place, including a home, is necessary to prevent imminent bodily harm or death to any person or domestic animal.

The Dog Legislation Council of Canada along with four other anti-BSL groups will be launching a legal challenge of this Ontario breed specific legislation and are currently seeking expert opinion from dog owners and organisations around the world that have suffered from BSL in the past, including the UK.

PREMIER’S CREDIBILITY DOGGED

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s credibility has gone to the dogs.

That’s the message behind a new billboard advertisement that the political pressure group Ontarians for Responsible Government has put up in downtown Toronto.

The billboard features a photo of Premier McGuinty next to a photo of a dog. The dog is labelled "Pit Bull"; the Premier is labelled "Political Bull"

"This is part of our ongoing campaign to keep the pressure on Premier McGuinty for breaking his election promise not to raise taxes," says O.R.G. Director Gerry Nicholls. "We have also set up a special web site called www.dumpdalton.org"

Ontarians for Responsible government is a project of the National Citizens Coalition.
Premier McGuinty is in good company when it comes to ridicule – his Attorney General Michael Bryant was similarly lampooned in the leading Ontario newspaper the Toronto Star a few weeks back, showing Bryant muzzled and on a leash, being walked by a Pit Bull. The Star is one of the few newspapers that have dared to speak out against the Government’s ill-thought out Bill 132 and remains critical of the Bill’s provisions.

l To read the full text of the Dog Owners' Liability Act (Ontario) which contains the breed specific legislation and other provisions dogs, please go to

http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/ DBLaws/Statutes/English/90d16_e.htm
l Dog Legislation Council of Canada website: www.dog legislationcouncilcanada.org