Update June 13, 2009: Â Last fall, anÂ appeals court upheld the province of Ontario’s broad pit bull ban. Now, the Canada Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from that ruling.
Clayton Ruby, attorney forÂ Catherine Conchrane, a Toronto pit bull owner, argued before theÂ Court that the definition of "pit bull" is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad because it snares dogs thatÂ are mixes and mutts or have no pit bull in them at all. HeÂ argued the law includes dogs that pose no danger at all to anyone or other animals.
Ruby also said there is no evidence and specifically no scientific evidenceÂ to support the Crown’s claim that there is a "reasoned apprehension of harm" from "pit bulls" to justify the ban.
TheÂ Appeals Court disagreed that the ban is unconstitutionally vague or overbroad, thus reversing the Superior Court decision described in Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report below.
The Appeals Court also ruledÂ that "pit bulls" are dangerous and unpredictable dogs that have the potential to attack without warning.Â Â The Appeal court said in its decision, "The total ban on pit bulls is not ‘arbitrary’ or ‘grossly disproportionate’ in light of the evidence that pit bulls have a tendency to be unpredictable and that even apparently docile pit bulls may attack without warning or provocation".
The Supreme Court has now refused to disturb that finding. The 3 judge panel gave no reason for its refusal to hear the case.
Michael Doi, attorney forÂ the government,Â has called "pit bulls" the "automatic weapon of the dog world.".Â Â
Original report: An Ontario Superior Court Justice struck down parts of the province’s law relating to pit bull breeds.
The court found the definition of "pit bull" is unconstitutionally vague. The definition cannot include "pit bull terriers" though other pit bull breeds including those with "substantially similar" characteristics may continue to be banned.
The court also found the law does not allow use of a veterinarian to prove a dog’s breed.
The ruling did not otherwise affect the law’s broad ban on pit bulls. Clayton Ruby, the attorney for the plaintiffs who were challenging the law, issued a statement explaining, "We saved ‘pit bull terriers’ but not the other breeds".
Justice Thea Herman said in her ruling, "The evidence with respect to the dangerousness of pit bulls, although conflicting and inconclusive, is sufficient, in my opinion, to constitute a ‘reasoned apprehension of harm’.
"Dog ownership is not a right. The impact of these restrictions on individual dog owners is not, in my opinion, disproportionate to the objective of protecting the public."
The justice made clear her job was to determine whether the law was constitutional, not whether it was good policy.
Ontario’s Restrictions on Pit Bulls
American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers or any other breeds sharing ‘substantially similar’ characteristics are banned in the province of Ontario. Specifically under 2005 amendments to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (DOLA), no one may own, breed, transfer, import, or abandon pit bulls.
Pit bulls already in Ontario at the time of the ban or born within 90 days of August 29, 2005, have been ‘grandfathered’ and will be allowed to live out their lives.
Owners cannot train the dogs to fight. They must keep them confined and must leash and muzzle their dogs in public. Muzzles must be strong enough to prevent the dog from biting but at the same time allow the animals to breathe, pant, see and drink. Leashes for pit bulls must be no longer than 1.8 meters.
All pit bulls must be spayed/enutered.
Penalties include a $10,000 fine ($60,000 for corporations) or six months imprisonment or both. The court can also order the owner to pay restitution to a victim of a dog bite or attack. The owner is liable for damages regardless of fault. The animal can be taken away or destroyed.