Court of Appeal Reverses Superior Court’s Suspension of Montreal’s Pit Bull Ban
Montreal pit bull owners have been hit with an unexpected and disappointing setback. On December 1, 2016, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a large part of the Superior Court’s suspension of Montreal’s controversial ban on pit bulls.
In early October, Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin ordered a suspension of Montreal’s ban on pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs until the court could make a final ruling on the SPCA’s legal challenge of the new bylaw. Justice Gouin stated that the bylaw lacked clarity, characterizing the definition of pit bulls in the bylaw as “vague and ambiguous”. The judge pointed out that the targeting of dogs that are a mixed breed, or that “present several morphological characteristics of pit bulls” without more details could result in considerable amounts of confusion for dog owners, making it difficult for many owners to know if the bylaw even applied to their pets.
In the wake of Justice Gouin’s decision, those opposed to the proposed ban believed they had been granted a temporary respite from the controversial law. The decision also bolstered hopes for a final ruling in the SPCA’s favour as Justice Gouin’s reasons for ordering the suspension closely mirrored some of organization’s arguments for wanting the law overturned completely.
However, last week the Court of Appeal ruled that Justice Gouin failed to take into consideration two important criteria when ordering the suspension:
- The risk of serious or irreparable harm.
- The balance of inconveniences.
As the law was enacted in the public interest, the Superior Court’s decision should have taken for granted that the law had a valuable objective in the “balance of inconveniences” analysis. According to the Court of Appeal, failing to account for these factors constituted determinative errors in the Superior Court’s decision. The three judges held that the suspension should have been limited to the sections of the law that had the potential to actually cause irreparable harm, specifically the sections that allowed for the euthanization of pit bulls or pit bull-type dogs and those that prohibited owners from reclaiming their dog, if lost, based on breed or physical appearance.
As a result of the Court of Appeals ruling, sections of the law requiring special permits and muzzles are now back in effect. However, owners of pit bull-type dogs will still be permitted, for now, to reclaim them from shelters if lost, as long as the dog is not proven dangerous. Additionally, pit bull-type dogs can still be sent to shelters or adopted by people living outside the City of Montreal. If the bylaw is upheld by the Superior Court, paragraph 3 of section 44 will prohibit these dogs from being offered up for adoption.
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