Monday, September 22, 2008

Pit bull law should be overturned

Pit bull law should be overturned

An Ontario Court of Appeal is hearing arguments this week that literally are a matter of life and death. However, because these aren't human lives, many people might not even know it's going on. That, however, doesn't lessen its importance.

The case in question is an effort to have the Ontario government's 2005 legislation that forbids the owning, breeding or selling of pit bulls overturned. Lawyer Clayton Ruby is arguing -- correctly -- that the ban is "unconstitutionally vague,'' and should be sent back to the legislature.

"It is too broad and needs to be struck down,'' he said in court Monday. "It is unclear what was intended to be captured in this legislation.'

In 2005, the province introduced legislation that forbids the owning, breeding or selling of pit bulls. Existing pit bulls were exempt under the ban, but they had to be spayed or neutered and muzzled and leashed in public. The province brought forward the legislation after a string of pit bull attacks.

Ruby also argues the government overreacted and based its decision on a single report -- written by a dog catcher from Ohio.

"They aren't dangerous,'' Ruby argued. ``In Canada, pit bulls are way down the list of dangerous dogs. They make wonderful family pets ... you can't identify how dangerous a dog may be to the public in advance and legislate it.''

In late March, the provincial government claimed victory after the controversial law survived a constitutional challenge. But Ruby, who sought leave to appeal that ruling, argued the legislation is too broad because it bans all dogs that look like pit bulls, thereby painting too many breeds of dogs with the same brush.

Ruby is not only bang on in his arguments, in particular the vagueness of the legislation and the fact it would ban an entire breed of dog because of the actions of a few. Interestingly, the fight against this legislation has received support -- at least quiet support -- from some unusual sources, namely the people required to enforce these laws.

Several humane societies, including the one in nearby Peterborough, have in recent months shipped pit bulls puppies to Quebec in order to avoid having to put them down.

When those who are supposed to enforce laws act against the spirit of the law, you know you have a problem. But while Ruby fights to force the government to legislate sensibly (would that we could all do that more often) the real criminals in cases of pit bull attacks -- the owners -- continue to wander free and unscathed.

While pit bull attacks over recent years have been disturbingly vicious in several cases -- and we don't argue with the need to put down animals that do attack people or even other animals -- the reality is that many more pit bulls live as beloved family pets than commit horrendous crimes.

However it boggles the mind that the government could decide to legislate against an entire breed -- in effect pit bull genocide -- because of the actions of a few dogs. It is similar in concept to the federal long gun registry -- penalize all gun owners for the acts of a few -- but in this case the government decided to kill innocent animals, not just fine innocent hunters. It is all about appearing to do something rather than actually doing something -- and in this case it is costing lives.

Ironically, the Liberal government got it right with its street racing legislation -- yank the owner's licence and tow the car immediately -- which firmly put the blame on the driver, no matter whose vehicle it is.

Similar legislation would also be appropriate in dealing with owners of all violent dogs: charge them with a crime, get the dog away from them, and stop them from owning dogs for a period of time, say five years. At the end of that time, put limitations and restrictions on them owning dogs, including requiring them to be subject to random checks on how they are caring for their animals. Of course this approach is sensible and addresses the problem -- bad dog owners -- rather than being sensational and making it appear the government is actually doing something.

Maybe the Liberal government doesn't care about legislation that is immoral and ineffective because it's not as if a lot of voters care. But we think people should care and we hope Clayton Ruby can force the government to take back its cruel and inhuman legislation and replace it with something that makes sense. He certainly has our support.

Article ID# 1207316


Sharon said...

*fingers crossed* this is great news!

Conners said...

It's going to the Supreme Court Sharon. Ruby is taking us ALL THE WAY!!!

Sharon said...

that's exciting!