BREED SPECIFIC Legislation in Ontario, Canada continues to bite with a case which is reminiscent of the early days of UK’s own Dangerous Dogs Act with the seizure of a crossbreed bitch and her litter of puppies as ‘pit bulls’ and the city’s intention to destroy them as such.
On June 6, 2007 animal control officers in Sarnia, Ontario seized a mother dog and her three seven-week old puppies from the home of Brian Edwards Jr. and his partner Cassie Bates.
The dogs’ offence was solely that an animal control officer identified them as ‘pit bulls’ under the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act (‘DOLA’). The authorities have subsequently and conveniently changed this breed identification; the puppies and mother are now claimed to be Staffordshire Bull Terriers or have the appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar.
According to the owners, the dogs in question are neither.
A spokesperson for the Dog legislation Council of Canada told OUR DOGS: ‘On March 23, 2007 Madam Justice Thea Herman, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court, issued a decision that campaigners interpret to rendering the DOLA classifications ‘pit bull’ and ‘pit bull terrier’ as ‘unconstitutionally vague’. If our understanding is correct, the seizure of the mother and her pups on the basis that they are ‘pit bulls’ would have been unconstitutional.
‘As for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier identification, there is no proof of that breed identification. It is merely the word of an animal control officer, not a breed expert. The mother dog is not a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier; she does not have registration papers, a microchip or an identifying tattoo.’
At the time of the dogs’ removal from their home, the owners stated they were given two options: hand the bitch and her puppies over, or be charged because the dogs were not licensed and the female was not spayed.
The DLCC spokesperson added: ‘This is a scare tactic frequently used by animal control officers to intimidate those who do not know the law into giving up their property – their dogs - without the municipality having to deal with the inconvenience and expense of a court case. This scare tactic unfortunately often works. Of course, threats of pepper spray and arrest work just as well. That's what happened when Brian approached the animal control van to calm the mother dog.’
On June 13th, the Ontario media reported that these dogs were given a stay of execution. Interestingly, in another parallel with the DDA, the media’s hard-line ‘kill all pit bulls’ stance has changed now that cases of ordinary family pets being seized are coming to light, and coverage of the ‘Sarnia Puppy Case’ is sympathetic to the owners, not the authorities.
However, on the same day the City of Sarnia issued a letter stating that ‘the pound operator will exercise certain options set out in Section 20(7.4) of the Animals for Research Act, R.S.O. 1990 (the ‘ARA’).’ Four options were cited. Only one allows the dogs to live.
The ARA specifically states that the puppies and their mother can be safely transferred to a person who is resident outside Ontario.
Knowing of this option, Advocates for the Underdog, a well-known and respected rescue organisation which has campaigned against BSL, offered at their own cost to take this task upon themselves. However, Sarnia pound officials declined the Advocates’ offer.
The City Solicitor for Sarnia has filed documents claiming that the seven-week old puppies and their mother pose ‘a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals’.
Therefore, under the provisions cited, the City of Sarnia has decided that the mother dog and her puppies will be killed.
The DLCC added: ‘Not only does Sarnia animal control apparently not understand the law that they are supposed to be enforcing, but the Sarnia legal department also apparently does not have a clear understanding of the law.
‘Or perhaps they understand it too well. Could it be that the Ontario Attorney General’s office is once again wielding the same bloody pen used to write Ontario’s breed-specific legislation? One has to wonder why the Ontario government’s highly paid constitutional lawyers, who presented during the recent Superior Court case, sat in on less well-known municipal cases pertaining to ‘pit bulls’. One also has to wonder why the City of Sarnia has recently announced that it will be performing door-to-door checks on all homes for the presence of dogs.
‘The constitutional challenge to DOLA is back in court for the remedy hearing at the end of this month. Until that time, it is our understanding that this law is in limbo and subject to misinterpretation and mistakes.
‘Without judicial clarification, it is hard to see how the City of Sarnia can justify the killing of innocent puppies. One would think that prudence would cause the City to put a moratorium on further actions until the courts clarify whether the law is enforceable.’
Many dog owners and the general media see the back-door legal tactic used by the City of Sarnia to kill unoffending puppies and their mother as a purely vindictive measure. The classification of ‘substantially similar physical characteristics’ could easily be applied to tens of thousands of Ontario dogs.
Brian Edwards Sr., who has taken up his son's cause, said Brian Jr. doesn't believe his dogs are pit bulls and this was why they were neither registered nor neutered. His family has retained a Toronto lawyer who volunteered to take on the case without payment.
‘We need him to get the dogs back,’ Edwards Sr. said. ‘This law is just unbelievable. It's too vague and too unfair.’
‘We hope a vet will look at our dogs and confirm what we already know.’
Last Friday, running simultaneously in front of city hall, MPP Caroline Di Cocco's office and the local humane society, where the dogs are being held.
‘I'm an old hippy and I believe in protest,’ said Edwards Sr.
• The Dog Legislation Council of Canada asks that readers take five minutes from their day and write, call or fax the members of Sarnia City Council. You don’t have to live in Sarnia, or even in Canada, to write the mayor and councillors