Dogs, Laws and Controversy: Montreal’s New Pit Bull Ban Explained:
Just this past week, the City of Montreal passed a new and very controversial bylaw which quickly began trending as the #PitBullBan. Officially known as the Règlement sur le contrôle des animaux, the new bylaw bans ownership of new pit bulls outright or pit bull types in the city’s 19 boroughs. The new rules also make it mandatory for Montrealers who currently own a pit bull to obtain a special permit by the end of 2016 and renew it yearly thereafter. Anyone who fails to comply with the new rules can end up with a fine ranging anywhere from $300 – $700.
But the real controversy comes from the fact that any pit bulls considered dangerous, such as those who have bitten a person or another animal, may, by law, be euthanized. This prospect has countless animal lovers, activists and organizations calling Montreal’s pit bull ban both cruel and draconian. The new bylaw has gained international attention and even that of celebrities, with groups across the country stepping up to adopt soon-to-be orphaned pit bulls. And a petition to rescind the new bylaw has already received over 37,000 signatures on Change.org.
The Pit Bull Ban ExplainedAs of October 3, it will be illegal to acquire a pit bull or pit bull-type dog, defined as follows:
- Staffordshire bull terriers
- American pit bull terriers
- American Staffordshire terriers
- Any mix with these breeds
- Any dog that presents characteristics of one of those breeds
The legislation classifies dogs into 2 categories of:
- At Risk: Dogs that exhibit aggressive behaviour such as biting. Dangerous: Dogs that have killed a person or been deemed dangerous by an official or animal expert.
- Any dogs deemed dangerous will be euthanized under this new legislation. A dog at risk can also be euthanized if it it deemed dangerous by a city official or animal expert.
Additionally, as of October 3, the following rules will apply to pet owners:
- At maximum, an owner can possess no more than 2 dogs (no matter the breed) in one residence without a special permit.
- Anyone with a criminal record will not be permitted to own a pit bull.
- All pit bulls must be sterilized, vaccinated and also microchipped. If any one of these is not done, the owner of the dog will not be able to obtain a permit.
- Outside of the residence, any dog(of any breed) must be on a 1.25-metre leash and muzzled, as well as supervised by someone 18 years and older.
- It is forbidden to walk more than 2 dogs (or 2 animals of any type) at the same time within city limits without a special permit.
In regards to the permit that must be acquired to own a pit bull, a few things must be kept in mind:
- If you get a new pit bull-type dog, you must obtain a permit within 15 days, or do so, at the latest, one day after the dog reaches 3 months of age.
- As a permit holder, you must notify the city of any changes within 15 days such as a change of address, or death, disappearance, or change of ownership of the dog.
Veterinary offices or animal refuges can breathe a sigh of relief as many of these restrictions do not apply to them. Anyone operating such an establishment should check into how the bylaw affects them.
Questions and ControversyIn just the past week, dozens of articles have popped up in every major media outlet in Quebec about the ban, exploring it from virtually every angle. The conclusion of most is that there is no scientific evidence nor reliable statistics that demonstrate that pit bulls, as a group, are more dangerous than any other breed of dog.
In fact, just what a pit bull is is not clearly defined. Pit bull is actually a name used for 4 breeds of dog not easily identifiable in all cases by simple observation. This begs the question: If the City wants to enforce its legislation, how will it identify “pit bulls” with certainty? Will it mandate dog DNA tests or implement some other measure to ID pit bulls?
If we look to the views of the general public with a trip across social media, we find many claiming that it’s not the breed that makes a dog dangerous, but moreso its upbringing and the treatment it has received from its owner. Food for thought.
Another argument some have raised regards what will actually happen if pit bull lovers can’t own pit bulls. Will they then get other large dogs that could be considered equally as dangerous?
The questions are many, but Montreal is not the first city to implement such a ban.
Lessons from AbroadNumerous municipalities across the globe have passed similar legislation only to later repeal the laws. Dog and pit bull bans passed in Spain, the United Kingdom and Holland failed to impact in any way the rates of hospitalisations for dog bites or attacks, and the same is true in Manitoba and Toronto. No surprise then that the CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have spoken out against laws targeting pit bulls and other dog races.
In light of such evident failures and lack of support from the scientific community, why would Montreal head down the same path?
The SPCA Files SuitWhen the City of Montreal was contemplating the ban, the SPCA spoke out, saying it would cease all services for dogs in Montreal if the bylaw passed. But when it did pass, the SPCA did much more. The very day after the bylaw was voted in, the SPCA filed a lawsuit against the City of Montreal, calling for an injunction on the legislation, portions of which it classifies as illegal and unconstitutional.
The basis for the suit is its contention that the language used in the new legislation is overly vague and imprecise, and as a result, it will be difficult to define which dogs are considered pit bulls. The SPCA claim’s that the provisions create additional obligations for pitbull owners over and above the obligations for other owners of equally dangerous dogs and that these new obligations are punitive. Finally, one of the SPCA’s immediate worries is that the new laws put dogs’ lives at risk with no proper procedure in place to allow for contestation. In essence, if your dog is deemed dangerous, it will be put down, and there won’t be anything you can do about it.
As always, we’ll keep you up to date, right here on the Legal Logik blog, as new developments unfold.