Canadian Pit Bull Ban Faces Challenge

Ontario's attorney general is certain a controversial pit bull ban will survive despite facing a constitutional challenge in court next week. The bill bans the dog breed and severely penalizes violators with hefty fines and jail time.

The bill has been described by one US expert a " the most comprehensive legislation of its kind" and has been very carefully constructed, leading to doubts that the bill can be stopped. Renowned lawyer Clayton Ruby will argue in court next Monday that the ban is "too vague and over-broad," and therefore unconstitutional. He is known to have said in an interview that "both the defense and prosecution agree that most pit bull dogs are kind, loving dogs that would not bite anyone".

Ruby’s legal view is that since a large number of pit bulls don’t pose a threat, the law is too vague to imprison someone for violating. He also thinks the definition of a pit bull in the legislation is also too vague and could punish some people unnecessarily. He noted that veterinarians can’t easily determine if a dog is a pit bull without a full breeding history, since many dogs share the traits that characterize pit bulls: muscular bodies with broad shoulders, strong hindquarters and large heads.

The ban, part of the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, came into effect last August and requires pit bulls to be muzzled in public, leashed and sterilized, and also bans breeding of the animals. Owners who violate the law can be fined up to $10,000 or sentenced to up to six months in jail or both – the first time imprisonment has been included in the province’s dangerous dog legislation. If the court determines an owner has violated the law, the dog is destroyed.

Ruby is acting on behalf of Catherine Cochrane, the owner of a two-year-old pit bull mix. Cochrane announced last August that she would fight the law forcing her to muzzle her pet. Cochrane is backed by a group of pro-dog organizations calling themselves the Banned Aid Coalition.

Ruby points out that a 1996 study found that pit bulls accounted for just four per cent of reported dog bites in Toronto, ranking ninth among identified breeds. The statement also claims that dog bite statistics are unreliable because the description of the dog often comes from someone who isn’t familiar with breeds and thus misidentifies it as a pit bull. 

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