Ontario bans pit bull terriers
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:
TORONTO–The province of Ontario,
Canada, will on August 29, 2005 implement the
farthest reaching ban in North America on the
sale or acquisition of pit bull terriers,
attorney general Michael Bryant announced on
Enforcement will be phased in over 60
days. A “grandfather clause” allows pit bulls
already in Ontario or born within 90 days of the
ban taking effect to remain, on condition that
they are sterilized and are muzzled and leashed
when out in public.
The Ontario pit bull ban was among
several amendments to the Dog Owners Liability
Act passed through the provincial legislature by
the Liberal Party majority on March 1, 2005.
Other amendments doubled to $10,000 (Canadian
funds) the maximum penalty for allowing a
dangerous dog to escape control, and eased
search-and-seizure warrant requirements for
police and animal control officers who impound
The pit bull ban passed five days after
three pit bulls rampaged through an Ottawa
residential neighborhood, injuring three people,
including two-year-old Jayden Clairoux. The
dogs’ legal owner, Shirdev Café, was charged
with six Dog Owners Liability Act violations,
with possible penalties of up to $30,000 in
fines. A 17-year-old girl was charged with three
counts of criminal negligence causing bodily
harm. Her name was not disclosed, in keeping
with the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
“Cafe was fined $2,310 earlier this
winter for another incident in which his dogs
attacked a four-year-old boy and his 16-year-old
stepbrother as they skated on an ice rink near
Woodbridge Crescent,” reported Neco Cockburn,
April Lindgren, and Ken Gray of the Ottawa
Bans on the sale or possession of pit
bulls and other reputed fighting breeds have been
in effect in the Netherlands, France, Britain,
and Germany for as long as 20 years, as well as
in China and several other Asian nations.
Ordinances of similar intent have been adopted by
many individual U.S. and Canadian cities, but
the Ontario ban is the first in either the U.S.
or Canada to extend beyond the limits of a single
city or county.
The Ontario legislation is modeled after
the city statutes enacted earlier by
Kitchener-Waterloo and Windsor, and by Winnipeg,
Manitoba, where the last licensed pit bull died
in 2004, 14 years after the breed ban took
“The experience in Winnipeg and Kitchener
was that you began to see a drop in pit bull
bites, even after the first couple of years,”
Bryant told Greg Bonnell of Canadian Press. “We
should immediately have better protection of the
Winnipeg animal services chief Tim Dack
affirmed to Canadian Press that pit bull attacks
in Winnipeg have dropped from a peak of 29 in
1989 to zero in recent years.
The Ontario pit bull ban was endorsed
during February legislative hearings by Toronto
police chief Julian Fantino, who in March became
the provincial commissioner of emergency services.
“Pit bulls are the dogs of choice for
criminals,” Fantino testified, mentioning
motorcycle gangs and drug dealers. Fantino
associated pit bull proliferation with increasing
use of firearms by police officers.
“Our officers are becoming as cognizant
of dangerous dogs as they are of guns when they
arrive on scenes of their calls,” Fantino
continued. “At that, multiple shots have to be
fired” in a typical confrontation.
Pit bulls encountered by police, often
while serving warrants or investigating domestic
violence complaints, “have been trained to
attack, and are being actively used as weapons,”
Both opposition parties opposed the pit
bull ban, as urged by the American Staffordshire
Terrier Club of Canada, the Ontario Veterinary
Association, the Animal Alliance of Canada, and
the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Canada.
The latter retained noted Toronto trial lawyer
Clayton Ruby to try to overturn the ban in court.
Arguments against the ban include alleged
inspecificity in defining pit bulls and the
complications that could occur if pit bulls are
transported through Ontario from provinces where
they are legal. A person cannot drive across
Canada without either passing through Ontario or
detouring into the U.S., around the Great Lakes.
Canadian provinces, however, have wider
legislative autonomy than U.S. states and the
provinces of most other nations. Canadian
provincial laws are occasionally overturned under
the national Charter of Rights & Freedoms, but
mostly for infringing linguistic rights or
regulating subjects not previously within the
scope of government.
Organizations called the Dog Legislation
Council of Canada and Advocates for the Underdog
have formed “an underground railroad of sorts” to
convey pit bulls out of Ontario, Bonnell of
Canadian Press reported.
Others may be doing similar things.
Investigating a suspected front for procuring
“bait” animals for fighting dog trainers in rural
Missouri that presented itself as a “rescue” for
“dangerous dogs” and small mammals, ANIMAL
PEOPLE in mid-March 2005 found numerous mentions
of both dogfighting and organized efforts to move
pit bulls out of Ontario in web postings by
devotees of a band called “My Chemical Romance.”
The suspect “rescue” used an e-mail address
including a reference to the band, but had no
evident direct connection with the band.
The most recent of many lawsuits filed
against breed-specific legislation in the U.S.
was filed in mid-March 2005 by University of
Mississippi student Paden McCullough.
McCullough sued the Tupelo-Lee Humane
Society in U.S. District Court for allegedly
unconstitutionally seizing eight four-week-old
pit bull puppies and fining him $100, after he
brought the dogs home from school in violation of
a local breed-specific ordinance.
“The city of Tupelo has denied any
culpability, saying that McCullough’s complaint
is with the humane society,” wrote Leesha
Faulkner of the Northeast Mississippi Daily
Journal. “According to an answer filed recently
by the city in federal court, a contract with
the humane society calls for the nonprofit to
indemnify the city from all legal claims unless
they involve the city’s automobile insurance.”
While Tupelo seems to be backing away
from defending its own ordinance, political
momentum in the U.S. has favored breed-specific
ordinances at the local level.
The momentum has run the other way at the
state level. Pit bull fanciers, the American
Kennel Club, the American SPCA, and the Humane
Society of the U.S. rushed this spring in
Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia,
Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Texas, and
Washington to head off local breed bans and
insurance industry efforts to avoid covering pit
bulls, Rottweilers, and close mixes.
Pits, Rotts, and their close mixes
together appear to account for about 75% of total
canine actuarial risk: about $750 million of the
annual $1 billion payout in dog attack cases.
[Actuarial risk is the ratio of payout on claims
to the numbers of insured individuals.] The
average settlement is about $16,000, Charlie
Soltan of the Maine Association of Insurance
Companies testified at a recent Maine legislative
The Colorado legislature in 2004 banned
breed-specific ordinances, overturning a
20-year-old pit bull ban in Denver–whose
shelters were receiving fewer pit bulls than
those of any other major U.S. city.
Most of the breed-specific bills proposed
in spring 2005 state legislative sessions did not
clear preliminary committee reviews.
However, the Washington state house of
representatives in March 2005 passed a bill that
would bar insurers from denying or canceling
homeowners’ policies based on possession of a
particular breed of dog. Now before the
Washington state senate, such legislation is
already in effect in some other states, giving
insurers a choice between compelling all policy
holders to subsidize the actuarial risk
associated with the most dangerous few breeds,
or simply refusing to insure anyone with any dogs.
An attempt by Illinois state
representative Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling) to
introduce 10 breed-specific definitions to
Illinois dangerous dog legislation was in
mid-March amended into a bill that would
encourage pet sterilization and discourage
running-at-large, through the efforts of
American SPCA lobbyist Ledy von Kavage.
Von Kavage pointed out that none of the
dogs involved in 22 recent Illinois fatal attacks
had been sterilized. However, most unsterilized
dogs are not nearly as capable as pit bulls of
inflicting fatal injuries, and sterilization
incentives have so far conspicuously not
persuaded possessors of pit bulls.
Mitchell introduced his bill after Lydia
Elaine Chaplin, 14, of Erie, Illinois, froze
to death on January 27 after a mauling near her
home by three free-roaming pit bulls and a boxer.
Sheriffs’ deputies promptly identified the man
whose dogs killed Chaplin, but neither named him
nor promptly filed charges.