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Ontario Vigil opposes BSL

Dog lovers listen intently as Cathy Prothero addresses the peaceful crowd

HUNDREDS OF dog owners, many of them accompanied by dogs, held a peaceful, candlelight vigil in several cities across the province of Ontario, Canada on Sunday evening in protest at the introduction of the Liberal Government’s breed specific dog control laws.

The protesters were joined by thousands of dog owners around the world who held their own public and private vigils, lighting candles in memory of all the dogs who have died under the cancerous implementation of Breed Specific Legislation.

The main vigil was held at Queen’s Park, Toronto, where over 300 owners gathered to denounce the draconian laws introduced by Attorney General Michael Bryant, which are based largely on the UK’s own discredited Dangerous Dogs Act. Despite holding a four-day public hearing into the proposed laws earlier this year at which experts including dog breeders, veterinarians and animal welfare organisations overwhelmingly gave evidence that BSL does not work, Bryant’s Bill 132 was passed by the Ontario Legislature. Although the Opposition parties debated the case against BSL very strongly, the in-built Liberal majority carried the vote.

The law came into effect at 12.01am on August 29th and effectively bans four so-called ‘dangerous’ breeds from Ontario, namely the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and English Bull Terrier, all lumped under the generic heading of ‘pit bull’.

Bill 132 allows the Ontario government to confiscate an individual’s dog without a warrant, to euthanase that dog or even – shockingly - sell the dog to a medical research facility. The dog need not have attacked anyone or behaved aggressively at all – it merely has to resemble a ‘pit bull’, or be deemed to be such by any official – police officer, dog warden etc. As with the DDA, the burden of proof is reversed and any legal challenge to free the dog it will be incumbent upon the dog’s owner to prove that it is not a ‘pit bull’. In effect, the dog is guilty until proven innocent… another warped clause lifted directly from Kenneth Baker’s Dangerous Dogs Act.

Many organisations have banned together to fight the laws, under the Banned Aid Coalition, which comprises: The Dog Legislation Council Of Canada, American Staffordshire Terrier Club Of Canada, Golden Horseshoe American Pit Bull Terrier Club Of Canada, Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club Of Canada, and Advocates For The Underdog.

The candlelight vigils which took place in Toronto and neighbouring cities of Halifax and Nova Scotia, amongst others, were well attended and drew a great deal of media attention. In the main, the Canadian press is supporting the Liberal Government’s stance, portraying the ‘pit bull owners’ as misguided at best and seriously deluded at worst. However, some publications managed to publish balanced articles about the perceived drawbacks of BSL, and the forthcoming legal challenge on behalf of Banned Aid against the laws.

Cathy Prothero, President of the American Staffordshire Terrier Club of Canada and Secretary of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada gave OUR DOGS her impression of the Toronto vigil: "This past week has been an emotional roller coaster for me, the vigil was charged with a mixture of electricity and gloom…"

Prothero continues: "I can't tell you what it was like for me to stand there, gathered with all those people showing support, I was filled with such pride and strength knowing that we were supported by public and private vigils around the world, I know it sounds strange but you could ‘feel’ it.

"As I looked around me, I watched as people stood in admiration of their dogs, and it was if we all took comfort from each other. I was in awe of the number of well-behaved dogs, literally from "Pit Bulls" to Poodles all interacting peacefully. As if they knew their very lives depended on it. It was their time to shine.

"I hardly knew anyone, but we acted like we were all long lost friends, I think this is how people feel on the front lines of battle."

Prothero gave a speech to the assembled crowd, quoting messages of support from campaigners in the UK, which offered them hope that BSL could be beaten, as the DDA had been amended into a far less draconian form through persistent campaigning. She finished with a quote from a speech given in 1993 by the late peer Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who was a tireless campaigner against the DDA and was one of very few politicians who saw the inherent difficulties with BSL.

The doughty peer drew a standing ovation on that occasion when he told British campaigners: ‘The battle lines are drawn, we move forward. Into battle my friends!’

His sentiments provoked a similar reaction, 12 years and several thousand miles on from the hundreds of responsible dog owners in Queens Park.

Cathy Prothero concludes: "On a lighter note, the local constabulary showed up, I thought, ‘Ok, here we go’. But the young officer walked up to us, and said ‘Don't worry, I have a Boxer, we are here to support you’! They even provided us with light to read our presentations!

"Bryant’s Bill 132 is probably one of the most ill conceived laws any government in this country has ever come up with. A pathetic attempt of politicians, under the auspices of public safety, to gain popularity at the polls. Peoples’ lives have been turned literally upside down. Countless good dogs have been destroyed, and countless more to follow. Everyday there is another heart wrenching story of a dog being seized.

"Bill 132 is so vague, no one knows what a "pit bull" is, anything short coated and muscular is being targeted. In London, Ontario, Bull Terrier owners have been told they must comply.

American Bulldogs are targeted in another city... this is just the beginning, never mind the mixed breeds.

"The law violates our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 7, which protects a individuals personal legal rights from the actions of the government. It denies the fundamental right, of liberty. By imposing jail time as a penalty.

"Canadian dog owners have had enough of this drivel shoved down our throats, we are tired of being ostracized for our breed of choice, tired of being persecuted for our breed of choice. No government has the right to tell us what breed of dog we can have in our living rooms. We are angry and we are fighting this law. And we will win."