Monday, May 15, 2006

Court Challenge-Article 3

Pit bull definition vague, lawyer says at appeal

May 15, 2006. 05:11 PM

Ontario’s ban on pit bulls is unconstitutional because it labels a breed of dog dangerous regardless of its actions and threatens to jail owners who may not even know their dog is considered illegal, lawyer Clayton Ruby said Monday.

Ruby was in court on behalf of Catherine Cochrane, a dog owner who is mounting a constitutional challenge to the law put in place last August by Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant that forces owners to muzzle and leash their pets.

“If you want to safeguard people from dangerous dogs, all the evidence suggests you’ve got to focus on dangerous dog owners,” Ruby said outside the courthouse.

“You’ve got to actually spend a dollar or two and monitor those people who have dogs that are vicious.”
Existing laws already include penalties for any owner whose dog is a menace to other people or pets, he added.

Ruby, a noted criminal lawyer who is representing Cochrane, said the ban is unconstitutional and too broad because it bans all pit bulls, even though animal experts say the majority of the dogs are friendly family pets.
In addition, the description in the law of what’s considered a pit bull, which is not a recognized breed, is too vague and broad and can encompass as many as 24 other breeds of dogs, Ruby told court.

People who own mix-breed dogs could be walking around with an animal that’s considered a pit bull under the law without even knowing it, he said.

Several recognized breeds are banned under the law, as well as any dog with characteristics that are “substantially similar” to those of a pit bull.

The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association has said it can’t determine what breed a dog is solely by looking at it but only through a study of its bloodlines, Ruby said.

“It’s all about what a dog looks like and not at all about what a dog does. That can’t be constitutional if you’ve got imprisonment as a result.”

The law forces pit bull owners to muzzle, leash and sterilize their dogs or face a $10,000 fine or up to six months in jail — or both. Dogs can’t be bred or brought into the province.

Statistics also suggest there are other dogs more dangerous than pit bulls, Ruby noted.

Since 1983, a Canadian study found 23 fatalities from dog attacks in which 55 dogs were involved. Only one dog involved was a pit bull breed, an American Staffordshire terrier. American statistics also show other breeds are more likely to bite than pit bulls, Ruby said.

Cochrane adopted Chess as a puppy from the humane society, which labelled the dog as a Staffordshire Terrier cross, one of the banned breeds.

“She can’t possibly prove the opposite, which is what the requirement of the law is,” Ruby said. “She’s got to show that it’s not a Staffordshire Terrier cross, and there’s no way on Earth she can do that.”

Changing the law so that offenders don’t serve jail time would negate the need for a constitutional challenge, Ruby said.

In court documents, Crown lawyers argue that the ban is necessary to protect the public from potential pit bull attacks. They say attacks by pit bulls are more deadly than from other dogs and pit bulls often attack viciously without being provoked.


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